The Arkansas Child and Adult Care Food Program: A Study of Factors Associated With Program Participation

Year: 2002

Research Center: Southern Rural Development Center, Mississippi State University

Investigator: Huddleston, Richard A., and Yetunde A. Shobo

Institution: Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families

Project Contact:
Richard A. Huddleston, Research Director
Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families
523 S. Louisiana, Suite 700
Little Rock, AR 72201
Phone: 501-371-9678


The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) is a Federal food assistance program that provides reimbursement for meals provided to children and adults in eligible child and adult care programs. To receive reimbursements, child care providers must sign up for CACFP and meet program eligibility criteria. Access to the CACFP program by the target population depends on the availability of child care providers and on providers’ decisions to participate in the program. Two major types of child care providers are family child care homes and child care centers.5 In Arkansas, family child care homes are licensed to serve a maximum of 16 children at a time, while child care centers are typically licensed to serve a larger number of children. This study examines the geographic variation in child care availability in Arkansas and the factors that affect child care providers’ participation in the CACFP.

The 1996 welfare reform legislation introduced a new reimbursement structure for family child care homes into the CACFP. The reimbursement rates that apply to homes in low-income areas or homes operated by low-income people are similar to those that applied before the 1996 legislation, but reimbursement rates to all other homes are at least 40 percent lower.6 The change in reimbursement rates may have reduced CACFP participation among family child care homes serving children from middle-income families.

The authors used 2002 State administrative data on child care licensing and CACFP participation to analyze county-level child care provision and CACFP participation in Arkansas. They also used 2000 Census data to construct measures of potential need for child care and for food assistance. In addition, they surveyed over 900 licensed child care providers in 2002 to collect information on the factors that influence their decisions to participate in the CACFP.

The study found that almost 70 percent of family day care homes in Arkansas participate in the CACFP, comprising 70 percent of CACFP providers. Child care centers make up 13 percent of CACFP providers in Arkansas. The analysis shows that the availability of child care providers, particularly those that participate in the CACFP varies significantly across regions of Arkansas. Family day care homes are concentrated in the delta region, which is located in southwest Arkansas and has the highest concentration of poverty in the State. The authors constructed a measure of child care capacity in a county, equal to the total number of children that child care providers in the county are licensed to serve. They found that child care capacity as a share of the child population (age 5 and younger) is higher in the counties of the delta region than in the counties in the rest of the State. However, because of the high rate of poverty in the region, the child care capacity of CACFP providers as a share of the population of poor children is lower in the delta region than in the rest of the State.

The authors used logit regression analysis to examine the effect of provider characteristics and perceptions on CACFP participation by providers. The results of the regression analysis indicate that family day care homes are more likely than child care centers to participate in the CACFP and that nonprofit child care providers are more likely to participate than for-profit providers. The longer the provider’s hours of operation per week, the more likely it is to participate in the CACFP.

The results of the child care providers survey indicate that 90 percent of child care providers are satisfied with CACFP administration. However, about half reported that the reimbursement rates are not adequate to cover costs, and about one-fourth reported that the paperwork requirements are too high. Child care providers not participating in the CACFP were asked about the barriers to participation. Almost 40 percent reported that they do not know about the program, and one-fourth reported that they do not know how to apply or that the application process is too difficult.

The authors concluded that many of the providers who do not participate in the CACFP are not eligible to receive large amounts of meal reimbursements because they typically serve few low-income children. However, the survey results suggest that some potentially eligible providers do not participate because they are not familiar with the program or are overwhelmed by the application process. These findings suggest that intervention strategies may be developed to encourage greater participation by eligible non-CACFP providers.