Food insecurity is a persistent national public health problem that affects one in eight children and can have negative effects on their short- and long-term development. The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) was created to help children in child care settings get nutritious meals and is a key federal program that supports children’s healthy nutrition and development. However, recent Urban Institute research highlights that CACFP has a major gap in its ability to reach children vulnerable to food insecurity.

Specifically, most states don’t allow small home-based child care providers, friends, and relatives who are legally exempt from state child care licensing requirements—also called license-exempt home-based providers—to participate in the program, even though their participation is allowed under CACFP. More children are cared for in license-exempt home-based settings (11.5 million children in 2019) than are cared for in the child care centers and the family child care homes that are listed with state licensing agencies and other agencies (10.5 million).

Who qualifies as a license-exempt home-based provider varies by state, with some states exempting only those caring for children they are related to, while others exempt home-based providers serving several children in their homes. Across the country, these providers disproportionately care for vulnerable children, including infants, toddlers, children with disabilities, children from immigrant families, families who face challenges affording child care, and families working nontraditional hours. Our findings suggest that state and federal policymakers have a remarkable opportunity to reduce food insecurity and support the healthy development of many children by allowing and supporting license-exempt home-based providers to participate in CACFP.

To explore how states that don’t currently include license-exempt home-based providers in CACFP could expand participation, we analyzed some states that do allow providers to participate. From this work, we found three key considerations:

  • States have significant discretion to establish eligibility approval processes for license-exempt home-based providers. 
  • Funding, resources, and focused efforts by sponsor agencies could support providers’ participation overall and in underserved communities. 
  • CACFP’s policies and payment levels create significant barriers to participation.

Read the full article about child and adult care food programs by Gina Adams, Catherine Kuhns, Fernando Hernandez-Lepe at Urban Institute.