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Conceptualizing and Measuring Access to Early Care and Education

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Recent federal, state, and local policies and initiatives focus on increasing access to high-quality ECE for all families. Given the prevalence and potential importance of these initiatives for families and children, it is useful for the field to take stock of how access to ECE is conceptualized and measured and to understand the extent to which context, purposes, and available indicators shape the assessment of access.

A recent report – Defining and Measuring Access to High-Quality Early Care and Education (ECE): A Guidebook for Policymakers and Researchers – provided guidance to support movement toward more consistent definitions, analysis and reporting on access. The report offered a family centered definition of access that emphasizes the importance of considering multiple dimensions of access including the degree to which families exert reasonable effort in securing ECE, the affordability of ECE, whether ECE meets the parents’ needs, and whether ECE supports the child’s development. The current report provides findings from a literature review that investigates and catalogues recent efforts to define and operationalize access, with a focus on the extent to which current work at the state and federal level aligns with the multi-dimensional definition of access proposed in the Access Guidebook. The review documents the extent to which current research and policy efforts have expanded beyond measures of the  availability of ECE slots and affordability to also include measures of the availability of ECE information, quality of ECE programs, provision of services that support both the child’s development and the family’s needs, and the removal of structural barriers to ECE for socially or economically disadvantaged or at-risk populations.

Source: Thomson, D., Cantrell, E., Guerra, G., Gooze, R., & Tout, K. (2020). Conceptualizing and Measuring Access to Early Care and Education. OPRE Report #2020-106. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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