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Barriers and Facilitators of Center-Based ECE Program Participation in the CACFP

May 25, 2023

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It Has a Lot to Do With the Cumbersome Paperwork 

In April 2023, the Indiana University CACFP Project Team published a study on the barriers, facilitators, and potential strategies to address center-based participation in the CACFP. One of the key barriers to participation shared by study participants included the cumbersome CACFP paperwork. Facilitators to participation included supports provided by stakeholders and sponsors. Potential strategies recommended to promote CACFP participation would require policy change and systems-level change by stakeholders and sponsor organizations, including ensuring consistent CACFP practices among stakeholders, sponsors, and Early Care and Education (ECE) programs. 

Key Barriers to Center-Based Program Participation in CACFP 

  • Cumbersome CACFP Paperwork 
    • Application to enroll in CACFP is long and intimidating 
    • Filing monthly reimbursement claims 
    • Annual re-enrollment process 
  • Difficulty meeting eligibility requirements:   
    • Parents unwillingness to complete family income-eligibility forms or failing to do so in a timely manner 
    • For-profit programs must administer family income-eligibility forms only to, sometimes, find out their ECE program is ineligible for CACFP 
  • Strict meal patterns 
    • Concern about the flexibility to serve foods that children would like to eat  
    • Unsure of ability to offer cultural foods.  
    • Perception that CACFP encourages food waste (especially of milk)  
  • Difficulties with meal counts 
  • Penalties for noncompliance 
    • CACFP perceived as punitive 
  • Low reimbursements 
    • Insufficient to cover the cost of administering CACFP 
    • Not commensurate with the burden of implementing CACFP 
  • Inadequate ECE staff to assist with paperwork 
    • Short-staffed, small-sized, and rural centers with limited resources are overwhelmed by the added responsibility of administering CACFP. 
  • Limited trainings 


Facilitators to Participation  

  • Outreach to promote CACFP awareness 
  • Technical assistance 
    • Providing information about CACFP eligibility requirements 
    • Sponsors eased ability of ECE programs to connect with state agencies  
    • Sponsors taking on the administrative risk and burden and provided oversight 
    • Sponsors establishing standardized practices to make CACFP participation easier 
    • Sponsors establishing organizational systems to help ECE programs keep track of and store paper documents 
    • Sponsor subscription to online software 
  • Nutrition education: 
    • Nutrition education provided to ECE staff,  
    • Posting of informational resources about CACFP on stakeholder and sponsor websites 
    • Distribution of newsletters with CACFP updates and recipes 
    • Provision of nutrition education resources to parents 


Potential Strategies Recommended to Promote CACFP Participation 

  • Streamlining paperwork suggestions 
    • Eliminate meal production records 
    • Extend timeline to re-enroll in CACFP from annually to every 2-3 years,  
    • Provide state agency-supported software to track meals to promote consistent paperwork practices  
  • Modifying eligibility requirements suggestions 
    • Make it easier for ECE programs to collect family income-eligibility information 
    • Connect all federal assistance programs so family income data could be communicated across programs automatically  
    • Provide an online platform for income disclosure that only states can access 
    • Eliminate need for income disclosure  
    • Community eligibility instead of family income-based eligibility 
  • Reimbursement rate increase suggestions 
    • Increase monthly rates 
    • States supplement funds 
  • Leniency towards unintentional noncompliance suggestions 
    • Increase frequency of state agency audits from once every 3 years to once per year to catch errors before they become unmanageable 
  • More outreach and technical assistance 
    • Educate programs about eligibility requirements, CACFP benefits, and impact of healthy foods served on children’s health 
    • Collaboration among stakeholders to promote CACFP awareness, educate parents about CACFP benefits, and provide peer mentoring to ECE directors  
    • Stakeholders conduct regular check-ins and connect ECE with helpful resources 


Read the full study: “It Has a Lot to Do With the Cumbersome Paperwork”: Barriers and Facilitators of Center-Based Early Care and Education Program Participation in the Child and Adult Care Food Program.