What is the CACFP?
The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP, or Food Program) is a little-known federal program administered by the USDA designed to ensure that children in child care in America get the best possible nutrition, to help them grow up strong and healthy and to help establish healthy eating habits for life. It is small by federal standards (about $2 billion annually), so it is one of the least known federal programs. But it is responsible on a daily basis for ensuring that over 2.9 million children (and 86,000 elderly Americans) are given the nutrition they need to stay healthy. For the hard working women and men who operate their child care businesses, working to care for America’s next generation, the Child and Adult Care Food Program not only helps cover the cost of the food they offer to the children in their care, but also provides training so they make the best nutrition choices when feeding those children.
The Food Program is an investment in America's future, and to protect that taxpayer investment this federally funded program is heavily regulated. There are inches-thick volumes of regulation governing every aspect of the program, and it can take years to learn all of the nuances of CACFP rules. But the basic program structure can be summarized in the chart below (click on each label below to see a detailed description for that type of program participant):
Minute Menu works with Sponsors, supplying a comprehensive management system for both Sponsors of homes and Sponsors of centers that helps them administer the Food Program with the highest level of integrity at the lowest possible cost. We also work with child & adult care centers and in-home family child care providers, by offering software to help them submit their food program claims, along with offering a wealth of other tools to help them manage their child care businesses. We work with parents who pay their child care providers via automated direct deposits. And we work with state agencies, providing auditing and oversight tools, along with training services, to improve the quality and reduce the costs of performing administrative reviews.
For more information, click here to visit the USDA’s web site. And there are a variety of organizations that support the Food Program, including the CCFP Roundtable, The Sponsors Association, the CACFP Forum, and FRAC. The NAFCC and NAEYC operate to support family child care homes and child care centers, respectively. And for your reference, some general child care statistics can be found here & here.
The folks in Washington, and in regional offices throughout the country, are tasked with overseeing the Food Program’s successful operation. Federal funds are released to State Agencies, and the USDA works doggedly to ensure those funds are used to the maximum benefit of children. They set the rules under which all participants in the CACFP operate, and work to ensure those rules are followed, and that the rules are having a beneficial effect.
State Agencies grant permission to certain regional and local non-profit organizations – Sponsors – to oversee child care providers (both centers and homes) on a monthly basis, and then review those agencies to ensure they are doing the best job possible. State Agencies also directly oversee certain child care centers – typically (but not always) larger center organizations that have multiple sites – who may apply to participate in the CACFP and report directly to the state agency.
Broadly defined, child care centers includes traditional child care facilities, church programs, nursery programs, Montessori schools, head starts, and before & after school programs. But a center could also include at risk facilities (like homeless shelters or facilities serving runaways) that serve children. And adults are served by the CACFP in adult day care centers. In order to participate in the CACFP, these centers must be non-profit, or if they are for profit, then 25% of the children enrolled must come from homes below a specific poverty threshold.
Independent Centers: Organizations (both non-profit and for-profit) that operate multiple centers can Sponsor themselves, reporting to the state agency independently – but in doing so, must accept liability for any failure to properly follow CACFP rules (which can sometimes result in big checks that must be cut back to state agencies).
Sponsored Centers: Other centers opt to participate in the CACFP through a Sponsoring organization, which then takes oversight responsibility (and also accepts liability) in exchange for taking an administrative fee to oversee the center.
About 45,000 centers participate in the CACFP.
These are local or regional non-profit organizations (sometimes associated with school districts, county governments, or united way agencies; and sometimes just private non-profits dedicated solely to the Food Program). They try to get family child care providers and centers to participate in the Food Program, train those providers and centers, visit them to make sure they’re following the rules, collect paperwork from them each month to check what foods and children they are serving, and issue reimbursement checks to those providers and centers based on the foods and children they served. Some Sponsors are quite small, serving 20 family child care homes or 1 or 2 centers in one town, and some are quite large, serving thousands of family child care homes or hundreds of centers throughout an entire state.
Family child care is a thriving business in the United States, with estimates showing over 1 million children in well over 200,000 family child care homes. But it’s a tough business, with an approximate 30% annual turnover rate. Roughly 145,000 family child care homes participate in the CACFP. These family child care providers are typically women who operate their business by themselves or with one or two helpers, and care for an average of 6 children (with actual attendance varying from 2 to 20, based in no small part on state child care regulations).
Providers record what foods they serve and to whom they serve those foods, every day, and send that information to their Sponsor each month. The Sponsors in turn send a reimbursement check back to those providers--with greater reimbursement given to providers serving children in low income communities. These child care providers also open up their homes for surprise inspections from Sponsors, who come to check on them periodically throughout the year to ensure they are meeting requirements for participation in the Food Program.
Over 2.9 million children and 86,000 adults are fed every day by the CACFP. The overwhelming majority come from low income, hard working families.