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State of Connecticut

Piloting solutions that make it easier for families to access affordable child care


The Care 4 Kids program sponsored by the Office of Early Childhood (OEC) and administered by the United Way seeks to make child care affordable for children and their families in Connecticut. To support their efforts to improve the subsidy application process for children and families, we worked with OEC and United Way to co-design a process and system for sending text messages to a subset of families applying to renew their subsidy benefits. The pilot served to test the value of a lightweight solution to improve transparency and confidence in the application process, while providing insight into the broader needs of the program and its stakeholders.

Family with young children sitting together with a mobile phone in the background showing a green status checkmark.

The challenge

Care 4 Kids is a program sponsored by OEC and run by United Way that helps low- to moderate-income families in the state pay for child care. To participate in the program, families and providers must meet specific eligibility and application requirements

A number of factors, including a new case management system, was creating a growing application backlog and a high percentage of incomplete applications and ineligible applicants entering the system. Both families and providers who rely on Care 4 Kids subsidies were becoming increasingly frustrated due to the long wait times and lack of transparency into the process of renewing their benefits. United Way was open to experimenting with new ways to improve the processing time as well as increasing trust and confidence in the application process.

After conducting user research and interviews to understand problems and needs more deeply, several critical issues became clear around communication and status updates for applicants that helped further inform our solution.

"Mailed it in originally. They said they never received it, sent again. They never received it so I did everything at that point — fax and upload. Had to do it all over again after that...still hadn't received anything back from Care 4 Kids at that point."


The solution

Our goal was to identify solutions to user pain points that could be tested and refined quickly while providing the most impact to Care 4 Kids applicants (families and children). In this case, we aimed to make it easier for families to have insight into the status of their application, to increase parent satisfaction and improve some of the existing challenges with the backlog.

To do so, we built an agile pilot to support sending application renewal status updates. Co-designed with OEC and United Way, the pilot was a SMS-based notification tool that let parents know when United Way received documents relevant to their Care 4 Kids application. Parents in this pilot could also request and receive information about application processing timelines via text at any time.

A minimum viable product was built within four weeks, then live-tested and implemented as a pilot with nearly 180 participants over a three-month period. Phone, text, and online surveys were also conducted before, during and after the intervention period to collect feedback from users.

The results

  • Agile pilot project launched to build and test SMS-based notification tool
  • On a scale of 1 to 5 where 5 means the greatest satisfaction, surveyed pilot participants expressed an overall increase in average satisfaction rating from Care 4 Kids communication
  • These parents also expressed a 19% increase in confidence that documents were being received by United Way
  • Provided larger-scale recommendations to address areas where pilot results shed light on additional gaps, confusion and communications needs in the application submission process

"[I] thought messages were very helpful. You never know when Care 4 Kids receives documents, so it was great to know. Very convenient!"

Pilot Participant