The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) provides reimbursements for nutritious foods for children with low-income at participating child care sites in the United States. The CACFP is associated with improved child diet quality, health outcomes, and food security. However CACFP participation rates are declining. Independent child care centers make up a substantial portion of CACFP sites, yet little is known about their barriers to participation. Researcher-led focus groups and interviews were conducted in 2021-2022 with 16 CACFP-participating independent centers and 5 CACFP sponsors across California CACFP administrative regions to identify participation benefits, barriers, and facilitators. Transcripts were coded for themes using the grounded theory method. CACFP benefits include reimbursement for food, supporting communities with low incomes, and healthy food guidelines. Barriers include paperwork, administrative reviews, communication, inadequate reimbursement, staffing, nutrition standards, training needs, eligibility determination, technological challenges, and COVID-19-related staffing and supply-chain issues. Facilitators included improved communication, additional and improved training, nutrition standards and administrative review support, online forms, reduced and streamlined paperwork. Sponsored centers cited fewer barriers than un-sponsored centers, suggesting sponsors facilitate independent centers' CACFP participation. CACFP participation barriers should be reduced to better support centers and improve nutrition and food security for families with low-income.
Keywords: Child and Adult Care Food Program; barriers; benefits; child care; policy.