Stabilizing the Early Care and Childhood System in Massachusetts

Practice Area: Early Childhood Development Scope: State Location: MA Status: Closed

Project Overview

Third Sector led the design process for Massachusetts Department of Early Care and Education’s Commonwealth Cares for Children (C3) grant, a monthly payment to providers to stabilize operations as a result of COVID-19 disruptions. Technical assistance included stakeholder engagement, designing a workforce bonus and restructured, equitable funding formula, which stabilized the programs and  helped keep child care accessible to all Massachusetts families no matter their race, background, or circumstance.


Most of us in America believe that all children (ages 0-5 years), no matter their race, background, or circumstance, should have the freedom to play, learn, and thrive in safe, nurturing environments. But for too long, our nation has failed to provide an adequate supply of affordable, high-quality early childhood opportunities leaving parents and caregivers with limited choices and young children without the tools they need to thrive.

Huge swaths of our nation provide no child care services at all - “child care deserts.” Child care workers are among the lowest-paid working people in the nation. The system’s failures are particularly acute in Black and Latino communities where the system has failed for a long time to adequately provide services and chronically underpays its Black and Latina women workers

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 had a devastating effect on every aspect of the American economy, but the impact on the child care system was particularly acute given the existing problems in the system. By 2021, more than 125,000 child care workers lost their jobs and thousands of child care facilities shut down, including an estimated half of the nation’s Black- and Latino-owned centers. To stabilize the industry, the federal government in March 2021 passed the American Rescue Plan Act, which included  nearly $15 billion in flexible Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) dollars and a child care stabilization grant fund of nearly $24 billion to be distributed to all the states.


In 2021, Massachusetts partnered with Third Sector to develop a funding formula for its child care stabilization grants and to develop and implement an ongoing continuous improvement process to analyze, review, and respond to lessons learned from the grants’ data. This project built on earlier Third Sector work with Massachusetts. Third Sector engaged child care providers and other key stakeholders in the process of developing the new formula for the federal funds, which would operate alongside the existing state funding formula. Third Sector deployed its Outcomes Focused Technical Assistance model (OFTA) to guide the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care (MA EEC)  leadership and their communities in designing a data-driven model that determines funding amounts to providers and analyzes system-wide impacts of these funding decisions. 

It was important to the state that the new formula advanced equity for all of Massachusetts' young children, no matter their race, background, or circumstance. Third Sector leveraged the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index (SVI)  to advance equity in the state’s formula. The amount of funding a provider is eligible for is determined in part by the SVI of the community where the program is located. SVI takes into account 15 data points that collectively reflect the systemic barriers to success facing a neighborhood. In this way, Massachusetts can prioritize child care providers serving historically marginalized communities that are disproportionately likely to be child care deserts. The formula also takes into account the percentage of children in a given area who are receiving subsidies.


In July 2021, Massachusetts launched the Commonwealth Cares for Children (C3) funding approach, with a second round launched a year later in July 2022. As of March 2023, about 90 percent of all licensed early education and care providers have gotten a grant through the program, making the program a major success.

The program dispersed all of its funds by December 2022 and can only continue if Massachusetts appropriates more funding for the program. In March 2023, Governor Maura Healey proposed increasing early child care funding for fiscal year 2024 by 25 percent over the previous fiscal year to nearly $1.48 billion with about $475 million going specifically to continuing C3 grants.

Practice area:

Early Childhood Development

Third Sector mobilizes cross-sector collaborators to transform the way our government and other providers deliver quality and affordable early childhood services in the United States.
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