DHS Launches New "Smart Steps" Child Care Payment Assistance Program

Monday, June 27, 2016 | 10:23am

New category of child care assistance designed to partner with parents who are working or pursuing postsecondary education to secure affordable quality child care.

NASHVILLE - The Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS) announced the launch of a new child care payment assistance program called, Smart Steps, designed to address the needs of parents who are working or pursuing postsecondary educational goals leading to self-sufficiency.

“We are very excited to launch Smart Steps child care payment assistance for parents working or pursuing educational goals in Tennessee,” DHS Commissioner Dr. Raquel Hatter said. “This program is a game changer in supporting the well-being and resilience of families by providing access to affordable quality child care. Participating children will also be enrolled in the Imagination Library. This new category of child care assistance is in alignment with the department’s 2G for Tennessee initiative and Governor Haslam’s Drive to 55.”

Smart Steps is a part of the department’s 2G for Tennessee initiative focused on a two-generation approach to creating cycles of success.  The program will provide support for the whole family by offering financial child care assistance to parents who are working or pursuing post-secondary educational goals, while also promoting learning and development for children.

"Governor Haslam's Drive to 55 initiative is focused on providing a pathway to college for every Tennessean," Drive to 55 Director Mike Krause said. "The Smart Steps program will greatly assist adults in their efforts to return to college and ultimately begin a successful career."

Smart Steps will be available to income-eligible working parents and parents pursuing postsecondary educational goals that have children ages six (6) weeks to five (5) years of age. Families that participate in Smart Steps are responsible for a portion of their child care costs or co-pay based on a sliding income scale.

Smart Steps participants can choose from over 2,400 DHS licensed child care facilities across the state. Along with independent research, parents can use tools offered by the department to assist in choosing child care. These include the find child care tool located on the DHS website, the Child Care Report Card posted in all licensed child care facilities, and the Star Quality Program, which recognizes providers that exceed minimum licensing standards.

Applications are available at DHS county offices or at http://www.tn.gov/humanservices/topic/child-care-services. Space is limited in the program and will be awarded to eligible families on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information on the Smart Steps child care payment assistance program please call 615-313-4820 or 1-800-462-8261.

To learn more about DHS’ two generation strategy, 2G for Tennessee, visit: http://www.tn.gov/humanservices/topic/2gen-approach.

About the Drive to 55

In 2013, Governor Haslam launched the Drive to 55 to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or certificate to 55 percent by 2025. As a result, the Drive to 55 has established the Tennessee Promise program, the nation’s first scholarship and mentorship program that provides high school graduates last-dollar scholarships to attend two years of community or technical college free of tuition and fees; reduced the number of college freshmen requiring remediation through the SAILS (Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support) program; provided free technical college for adults through TCAT Reconnect Grants; created Tennessee Reconnect + Complete to help more adults return to college to complete unfinished degrees; developed a more comprehensive state approach to serving student veterans; and leveraged technology to enhance classroom instruction and college advising.