Evaluations Of Early Learning And Child Care Initiatives
Recognizing the critical importance of access to high quality child care, both of our clients developed lower-cost child care pilots. The Government of Alberta implemented the Early Learning and Child Care (ELCC) Initiative to better support access to affordable, quality child care spaces. Receiving operational grant funding over three years, these ELCC Centres were intended to illustrate what a new child care system could look like by focusing on space creation, job creation, quality enhancement, and maximum parent fees of $25 per day per child.
The Government of BC launched a similar initiative, the Childcare BC Universal Prototype Sites, which provided funding and operational support to selected licensed child care centres for approximately 18 months and were intended to illustrate what a new, high-quality, affordable, universal child care system may look like for BC families.
Because both initiatives were developed as pilot programs, it was critical that our clients receive information to inform subsequent funding decisions.
In Alberta, the client’s research objectives included assessing the program’s implementation and fidelity; determining the extent to which outcomes had been achieved; measuring and assessing the effectiveness of activities at improving the accessibility, affordability, and quality of early learning and child care in Alberta; identifying lessons learned/best practices that could be used to improve program design, delivery, and effectiveness; and determining the social return on investment (SROI) of the initiative.
In BC, the client’s research questions related to the implementation of the pilots; the impact of the initiative on child care providers, educators, and families; the impact of the initiative on the provision of quality child care; lessons learned/best practices that could be used to improve the design, delivery, and effectiveness of future child care funding initiatives; the potential for future investment in child care in the province; the potential economic impact (return on investment) and SROI of the initiative and sustainability of child care funding models in BC; and the cost of delivering child care.
We designed and implemented large-scale evaluations and SROI impact analyses in both provinces concurrently.
In Alberta, we were awarded five separate contracts to complete research related to these pilots. Our first contract was designing an evaluation logic model and matrix based on several evaluation questions. This process was underpinned by a comprehensive literature and document review, an environmental scan, a review of administrative data, as well as scoping interviews with key stakeholders and subject matter experts. We also developed all data collection tools and supporting information/consent forms. Our second contract was to complete a multi-year evaluation of the first 21 centres. Data collection for this evaluation included ELCC Centre supervisor interviews; ELCC educator interviews; ELCC Centre partner interviews; an ELCC educator survey; an ELCC Centre parent/caregiver survey; ELCC Centre parent/caregiver focus groups; pedagogical partner interviews; and Getting Ready for Inclusion Today (GRIT) coach interviews. To better identify ELCC program impacts and evaluate their performance, we also conducted interviews with a collection of supervisors from comparison centres, and surveys with parents/caregivers from comparison centres. While completing the first year of the evaluation, we commenced an analysis of the Social Return on Investment (SROI) of the ELCCs. This included an analysis of numerous economic and social impacts of the ELCCs, including job creation, expanded and skilled workforce for employers, economic growth, poverty reduction, gender equality and economic security, social integration, positive child development, and increased family capacity to access supports. Analysis of SROI included a review of administrative data, review of evaluation data, an economic impact assessment model, a literature review, and stakeholder consultations. Finally, we were awarded a contract to evaluate the expanded pilot, which included another 29 ELCC Centres. This evaluation followed the same data collection methods that were used for the initial centres. As this was a new and high profile initiative, the evaluation was subject to considerable interest from government, the media, and the public.
In BC, we developed a comprehensive evaluation framework and approach that used a pre-post design where data was collected from the funded pilot sites (n=53) plus two Aboriginal Head Start sites over an approximately one-year time period. Data collection activities included a review of pilot site administrative data, stakeholder surveys, and three site visits to each pilot site. Data collection activities undertaken during the site visits include an observational assessment of child care quality, interviews with each site’s Executive Director/Site Supervisor, focus groups with parents/caregivers, and the administration of surveys for educators and families. In the interest of ensuring the client had a clear understanding of ways they can effectively support families of children with extra support needs, we also completed a concurrent evaluation of an Inclusion Pilot Project where selected sites piloted alternative models of inclusive child care. To inform child care delivery in the province, we provided the client with a comprehensive final evaluation report that included findings by research question and a number of evidence-based recommendations.
In both provinces, the data provided stakeholders with a clearer understanding of how the initiatives could best be implemented and sustained, as well as and understanding of how access to affordable childcare impacts the economic and emotional wellbeing of families.
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