Helping states understand and address child care access challenges

Our studies of child care markets created compelling calls to action that drove major policy changes and more than $1.8B in new investments in child care in Minnesota and Washington state.

new funding for early childhood programs in Minnesota
new funding for early childhood programs in Washington state

Child care is not funded as a public good in the United States. The lack of child care access has multiple impacts on children, families, employers, and the economy. Our Early Childhood Insights team used parent surveys, supply and demand dashboards, economic impact and cost modeling, and market price analyses to help Minnesota and Washington state understand these impacts.


In Minnesota, the state Department of Human Services wanted to understand how much families pay for child care and how much funding child care providers need to deliver high-quality care. To better understand these issues, they needed a study of child care market prices and a study of child care costs.

Likewise, the Washington state Department of Commerce needed help to examine the challenges families face in accessing child care, identify the impacts of those challenges, and recommend strategies for overcoming them. To inform recommendations for child care legislation, they needed a comprehensive child care industry assessment.


In both states, our Early Childhood Insights team used a combination of parent surveys and listening sessions, supply and demand dashboards, economic impact modeling, cost modeling, market price analyses, and other tools to help Minnesota and Washington state understand child care markets and the impacts of the lack of child care access. We also collaborated with partners to create compelling calls to action for policy change and new public investments.

In Minnesota, we used a survey and analysis methodology developed by ICF to examine the prices that families pay for different types of child care across the state. To better understand how much it costs providers to deliver child care services, we used the Provider Cost of Quality Calculator, which was developed by ICF and other researchers and is the most used tool for modeling child care costs. The team developed variables to fit the context of programs in Minnesota using a combination of information from national and commercial datasets, recent studies, and information from a provider survey, stakeholder meetings, and interviews. The analyses provided policymakers with insights into child care markets in Minnesota and provided practical recommendations for improving how the state finances child care.

In Washington state, we brought together an integrated team of early childhood finance experts, labor market economists, survey researchers, and geospatial experts to conduct a series of studies that examined the supply and demand for early childhood programs. We also estimated the economic impact of child care access challenges, examined the early childhood workforce, and identified opportunities to transform early childhood finance through cost modeling and enhancements to subsidy policies. The project involved extensive virtual stakeholder engagement with a 28-member Child Care Collaborative Taskforce.


In 2021, Minnesota policymakers used the child care cost study and child care market price study that we prepared to guide more than $600million in new investments to better fund child care programs and expand parent access.

“ICF has been an important partner to the department in understanding the complexities of the child care market in Minnesota. The Department of Human Services has continually been impressed by the insights and innovation that ICF has brought to the study of child care markets in our state.”

Project manager
Minnesota Department of Human Services

Washington state's Child Care Collaborative Taskforce used our study to develop recommendations for the 2021 Fair Start for Kids Act, which invested more than $1.1 billion in new funding for early childhood programs. The act makes transformative changes such as limiting the parent’s share of child care expenses, expanding eligibility for child care assistance, expanding child care facilities, increasing state reimbursement rates, and expanding access to health insurance for the child care workforce.

“ICF was an important partner in this work. Our department and stakeholders have appreciated the professionalism and expertise of the ICF team, and the quality of their work. Your team’s contributions have made a lasting positive impact on child care policy discourse in our state.”

Policy advisor
Washington Child Care Collaborative Task Force
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