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CACFP Participation Among U.S. Childcare Providers

June 26, 2024

CACFP Participation among childcare providers_4x3

The “USDA Child and Adult Care Food Program Participation Among U.S. Childcare Providers” examines the characteristics of childcare centers and day care home providers by whether they participated in CACFP or not. The analysis uses 2019 data from the National Survey of Early Care and Education (NSECE), and a unique contribution of the study is that it estimates participation rates. The analysis also uses a follow-up data set to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic affected provider operations and CACFP participation.

Why It Matters

Understanding the characteristics of child care providers that participate in CACFP compared to those that do not participate in CACFP helps us to understand areas of opportunity to expand access. It also helps us understand how participation in the CACFP increases the quality of care and serves demographics where nutritious meals are greatly needed.

Key Findings

  • In 2019, 61 percent of eligible childcare centers and 67 percent of eligible day care home providers participated in CACFP.
  • CACFP-participating centers and homes were more likely to serve children experiencing food insecurity at home.
  • CACFP-participating providers were more likely to serve populations experiencing economic disadvantage.
  • CACFP-participating homes and centers were more likely to use a curriculum or prepared learning activities.
  • Most CACFP providers that operated in 2019 were still operating in October 2020 during the pandemic, though centers were more likely to remain open than homes. Both centers and homes that were still operating continued to participate in CACFP.

CACFP Participation

Centers situated in public or private schools and that received funding from school-based public preschool programs were less likely to participate in CACFP, and some centers required by Head Start to receive USDA child nutrition program funding did not participate in CACFP.

Characteristics of Children Served

Higher percentages of both center-based (42 versus 29 percent; p < .05) and home-based (19 versus 14 percent; p < .05) providers participating in CACFP reported serving at least one child experiencing food insecurity as compared to providers of each type that did not participate in CACFP.

Staff Characteristics

On average, center-based providers participating in CACFP had a higher percentage of staff with no college degree (40 versus 32 percent; p < .05) and a lower percentage with a four-year college degree (40 versus 51 percent; p < .05) compared to nonparticipating providers.

This may reflect challenges these providers face in generating revenue to offer competitive salaries to recruit and retain staff with higher levels of education

Curriculum Use and Learning Activities

Overall, home-based providers participating in CACFP were more likely to report the use of a curriculum or prepared learning activities. This may suggest more formalized and potentially professionalized care settings.

Meal Service, Routine Care, Physical Activity, and Screen Time

  • Among center-based providers responding to the same question, CACFP participants tended to report providing 100 percent fruit juice to children less frequently compared to providers that did not participate in CACFP.
  • For either provider type, there were no significant differences in the number of hours spent in physical activity or in location(s) used for physical activity by CACFP participation status.
  • Home-based providers participating in CACFP reported significantly less screen time, on average, compared to providers that did not participate in CACFP.
    • Among center-based providers, screen time by CACFP participation status was similarly distributed.

Additional Services for Children and Families

Both centers and homes participating in CACFP were more likely to connect children and families to a wide range of additional comprehensive child and family support services compared to nonparticipants. Higher rates of additional service provision among CACFP participants may reflect needs of families served by the program, service requirements for participating in other childcare policies that may overlap with CACFP participation (such as Head Start), and participating providers’ connections to childcare agencies and professional networks that provide access to these services and supports.

Compliance, quality, and professional training activities and supports

Providers participating in CACFP were more integrated into formal professional networks and childcare policy systems, as reflected, for instance, in higher rates of health and safety and quality inspections and participation in QRISs.

Community Demographic and Economic Well-being

Centers and homes participating in CACFP were generally more likely to be located in communities with greater concentrations of low-income families and diverse populations, such as Black, non-Hispanic and Hispanic/Latino/a residents, and households that spoke a language other than English.


This analysis of CACFP participation across child care provider types and CACFP participation categories reflects a complex and dynamic program. CACFP significantly supports providers serving economically vulnerable and diverse populations, with its impact and reach shaped by various factors, including provider type, funding sources, community characteristics, and compliance with program regulations and requirements. These findings highlighting differences between providers that do and do not participate in CACFP may help FNS consider outreach strategies and programmatic changes to engage centers and home-based providers in CACFP.


For more information, visit USDA’s webpage, read a summary of the report, or read the final report. The report was written by Owen Schochet, Rebecca Franckle, Maria Boyle, Sophia Navarro, and the Childcare and Meal Provision Data Analysis Team and published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in June 2024.