Through the provision of federal leadership, partnership, and resources for the compassionate and effective delivery of human services, ACF seeks to ensure that all children, youth, families, individuals, and communities in the United States are resilient, safe, healthy, and economically secure. ACF makes considerable investments for the provision of high-quality services to support children and families, and there is a growing body of research to inform those investments. However, many critical questions remain about how to most effectively and efficiently support the social and economic well-being of the diverse populations ACF serves.
ACF services touch the lives of many children and families from varied racial backgrounds and a sizable portion of those served identify as Black or African American. For example, 29 percent of recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance in 2019 identified as Black or African American (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [HHS], 2020). Furthermore, approximately 30 percent of families enrolled in Head Start and 40 percent of families receiving monthly child care assistance through the Child Care Development Fund are Black or African American (HHS, 2019; HHS,2019).
ACF recognizes the complexities and ongoing discourse across disciplines on the use of the term African American to refer to populations who identify as Black but are not the descendants of enslaved people in the United States. ACF uses the term "African American" throughout this FOA to refer largely to the descendants of enslaved people who were brought from their African homelands by force to work in America as well as other individuals, families, and communities of the African diaspora who have immigrated to the United States who may identify as Black.
Given the participation of African American families and children in ACF programs, there is a need for community-engaged research and evaluation to understand the varied assets, needs, and experiences of African American families and children; identify promising approaches to address economic and social inequities; and promote their social and economic well-being. Community-engaged approaches to research work in collaboration with the populations being studied, with a goal of building trusting bi-directional relationships, can improve the rigor of the work, as well as the relevance of the work, to all stakeholders.
Research with African American communities must be culturally rigorous and must also be informed by an understanding of both current and historical circumstances. Culturally rigorous research ensures that knowledge is gathered in a way that is inclusive of and responsive to the diverse cultural practices of the populations being studied, ensuring that information is gathered in appropriate and meaningful ways (Tribal Evaluation Workgroup, 2013). Research that is informed by historical and current circumstances is grounded in an understanding of the important role that public policies, institutional practices, and other societal norms play in shaping the needs, strengths, and experiences of the populations being studied. This type of rigorous research and evaluation with African American populations can support the effective and efficient administration of ACF programs and, ultimately, improve the lives of African American children and families.
Traditionally, research that has informed predominate views of underrepresented groups, including African American populations, has not been community engaged, culturally rigorous, or informed by consideration of structural inequities. Moreover, such research has relied heavily on a comparative research framework in which the behaviors, experiences, and outcomes of White Americans are used as the standard or reference point against which the behaviors, experiences, and outcomes of underrepresented populations are assessed. Often this research approach fails to acknowledge how aspects of research design and measurement can bias findings and fails to acknowledge important historical and cultural contexts that differ across groups. This research approach has contributed to the inherent assumption that the behaviors, experiences, and outcomes of underrepresented groups that differ from White Americans represent deficits and must be addressed to promote their economic and social well-being. We aim to support research that is contextualized by a thorough understanding of historical and contemporary inequitable social structures and systems as well as the diverse cultural practices of African American populations.
ACF is providing the support for the Center to highlight and advance research on African American populations. By focusing on research that is culturally rigorous and informed by current and historical circumstances, the Center provides an opportunity to broaden current conceptualizations about appropriate research methods for studying African American families; ground research in contextual factors that shape their assets, needs, and experiences; and, ultimately, enhance understanding of ACF programs and service delivery.
ACF has previously funded research centers focused on specific populations, including the Tribal Early Childhood Research Center and National Research on Hispanic Children and Families. The work of these Centers has greatly shaped our understanding of the service needs and experiences of distinct populations.
The following topics reflect ACF programmatic concerns that the Center’s research effort should address:
- Varied assets, needs, and experiences of African Americans regarding child care assistance; Head Start and early care and education; TANF; poverty and social services; employment and economic mobility; and healthy relationships, including supportive family relationships;
- Promising approaches to promote the social and economic well-being of African Americans;
- Participation of African Americans in the social services workforce, for example, as providers of child care, Head Start, and early education; and
- Structural barriers, local implementation issues, and community factors that shape the provision of ACF programs to African Americans.
The Center will be a collaborative effort in support of multiple human services programs that interact with African American children and families. Information and knowledge gained from one program may be relevant to other programs. The activities funded by the Center will focus on the programmatic goals of the four focus areas listed above. Please see Section II. Federal Award Information for information about how the Center’s resources and activities should be proportionately dedicated to reflect the eligible activities under each of the four funding streams supporting the Center.
The Center will provide national leadership and excellence by investigating the assets, needs, and experiences of the diverse population of African American families and children served (or potentially served) by ACF programs as well as promising approaches to address economic and social inequities and, ultimately, promote their social and economic well-being. The focus of this Center will be on the child care assistance, TANF, and Head Start and Early Head Start programs and the populations they serve. However, other related ACF programs, such as child welfare and child support, and the populations they serve may be addressed as they relate to those programs of focus. The work of the Center will draw on interdisciplinary approaches to accomplish the three goals listed below.
Each of these goals should be a priority for the Center, and the grantee is expected to develop and realize a program of research that appropriately balances the Center’s core infrastructure and administrative responsibilities with each of these three key program goals. It is also expected that the grantee will identify and develop effective strategies to sustain project activities in support of the grant program's goals after the period of federal funding ends. These goals and the related responsibilities of the Center are discussed in more detail below.
1. Advance Research
Approximately 60 percent of the Center’s overall effort should be dedicated to the goal of advancing research.
The Center will be expected to plan, initiate, and maintain a community-engaged, focused, and high-caliber research program. This means that the research should be conceived with input from relevant stakeholders, as appropriate, and reflect partnerships with these stakeholders at multiple phases of the research process. The Center’s program of research should build on the existing literature related to African American children and families and should be directly relevant to the needs and interests of ACF areas of programmatic concern, including the following:
- The varied assets, needs, and experiences of African Americans regarding child care assistance; Head Start and early care and education; TANF; poverty and social services; employment and economic mobility; and healthy relationships, including supportive family relationships;
- Promising approaches to promote the social and economic well-being of African Americans;
- Participation of African Americans in the social services workforce, for example as providers of child care, Head Start, and early education; and
- Structural barriers, local implementation issues, and community factors that shape the provision of ACF programs to African Americans.
The program of research may also include topics of more general value to the field of human services.
The research should be culturally rigorous and informed by historical and current circumstances, and attend to issues of intersectionality of other relevant membership categories (e.g., disability, gender identity). The research may include ongoing or new social, behavioral, and economic policy-related research projects, including (but not limited to) secondary analysis of available data sets; research syntheses, pilot and feasibility studies; refining measurement tools or instruments; or similar research projects, as necessary, to address the key research questions of interest.
All research activities supported with ACF funds must adhere to the principles of rigor, relevance, transparency, independence, and ethics outlined in ACF’s evaluation policy. Although ACF’s policy focuses on evaluation, the principles and many of the specifics apply to other types of research activities as well. The research program should include an agenda of applied research, quantitative and qualitative research methods, primary data collection, and secondary data analyses, as best suited for the research questions and objectives pursued by the Center. The research program should support Center staff and other affiliated researchers in completing research that improves understanding of questions that fall within the four areas of ACF programmatic concern. See Section I. Program Description, Purpose, the third paragraph. The Center should provide intellectual leadership in the national research community by establishing links with a broad range of scholars external to the grantee institution through a combination of mechanisms, which may include (but is not limited to) leadership roles, partnerships with other institutions of higher education, visiting and postdoctoral appointments, research assistantships, an extramural program of non-resident grants, etc.
Using multi-disciplinary and multi-method approaches, the research program should advance methodological innovations (e.g., measurement tools, study designs) to obtain reliable and valid information on individual-, community-, program-, and systems-level constructs relevant to African American populations (e.g., current and historical circumstances, parent-child interactions, economic mobility, family relationships, children’s optimal development and well-being, racial trauma). The Center team must possess competency in a range of economic, social, and behavioral disciplines and research methodologies. The team must also have deep knowledge of the role institutional and structural conditions and practices play in shaping the needs, assets, and experiences of African American populations. The planning and execution of the Center’s research shall always consider the program and policy implications of research findings in a non-partisan manner. The Center should link research to public and private efforts to improve the lives of African American children and families. A Steering Committee (see Section I. Program Description, Structure) made up of both Center and federal staff will meet regularly to review and refine plans for Center activities. A Technical Work Group (see Section I. Program Description, Structure) will meet annually to provide input for the Center’s Activities.
2. Build Research Capacity
Approximately 20-30 percent of the Center’s overall effort should be dedicated to the goal of building research capacity.
The Center is expected to build research capacity and infrastructure to conduct research relevant to ACF program and policy goals that is culturally rigorous and informed by an understanding of current and historical circumstances that shape the experiences of African Americans. The Center is expected to build research capacity through developing tools, resources, and approaches to equip the field to conduct relevant research. In order to promote such research broadly in the field, the Center is expected to provide consultation and professional development to support and encourage the work of researchers within and outside of the federal government investigating relevant questions.
In addition, the Center is expected to contribute to the development and expansion of the pool of researchers reflective of the communities being studied by the Center. The Center should pursue innovative approaches to expose emerging scholars to the work of the Center and OPRE, as well as encourage and directly support emerging scholars to develop careers in policy- relevant research concerning African American children and families.
3. Communicate Research
Approximately 10-20 percent of the Center’s overall effort should be dedicated to the goal of communicating research.
Another integral feature of the Center’s responsibilities is to make knowledge and information available to ACF’s stakeholders. The Center is expected to develop and implement a dissemination strategy that broadly and efficiently communicates findings from research conducted within and outside of the Center and increases the use of research, data, and relevant resources for a wide audience including researchers, federal and state policymakers, ACF grantees, program administrators, and communities participating in the research. The dissemination plan will be comprehensive and utilize diverse media, channels, and strategic partnerships best suited to connect target audiences with the research findings and resources that can inform their work. For example, the plan is expected to include traditional, social, and innovative media, such as developing accessible written, visual, and audio products; holding events, such as webinars, workshops, roundtables, or symposia; and, engaging in outreach activities such as listening sessions and presentations at research and practice-focused gatherings, collaborating with ACF technical assistance providers, and engaging in bidirectional communication with stakeholders. It is expected that the dissemination plan will demonstrate strong links to the goals and objectives of the Center.
The Center’s organizational structure will include the following key elements: the Center Director (or co-Directors); Center team and partners; Dissemination Lead; a Steering Committee; and a Technical Workgroup.
Center Director: The Director will be the primary personnel representing the Center across all activities. The Director’s expertise, knowledge, and skills will inform all Center's activities and will contribute directly to the collaborative efforts involved. Through the Director’s efforts, the Center will advance the state of research concerning African American children and families. The Director will not only be primarily responsible for the successful completion of the Center’s research activities, but will also be responsible for establishing and maintaining coherence in goals and objectives across the Center’s activities and collaboration across the various structural elements and participants in the Center’s activities.
The Director must have a Ph.D. or equivalent for their field and should be an established expert as demonstrated by a substantial body of published work including peer-reviewed articles related to African American children and families. The Director must have expertise in ACF programmatic areas of concerns (see Section I. Program Description, Purpose, the third paragraph). Gaps in the Director’s skills should be addressed through additional Center leadership and staff, subcontracts with other institutions and organizations, and partnerships with other scholars and professionals (i.e., Co-Directors, consultants, logistic management support, research team members). Changing the Center's Director during the project period would constitute a major revision of the approved project and would require prior approval by ACF.
The Director must commit appropriate time and effort to the Center to ensure ongoing management and oversight and high-quality results and products. The grantee should inform the Federal Project Officer (PO) regarding any significant changes in availability throughout the project period.
Center Team and Partners. The Center’s team and partners (i.e., project managers, coordinators, writers, data collectors, subcontracted research and logistics support, research partners) are critical to the success of all of the Center’s activities. The Center team must include individuals with experience and skills for conducting research with African American children and families. The Center team must include individuals with expertise in ACF's programmatic areas of concern (see Section I. Program Description, Purpose, the third paragraph). Gaps in Director or Co-Director expertise may be addressed by identified strengths in the Center’s team and partners. Grantees are encouraged to seek out and partner with other organizations, research institutions, and experts throughout the course of the project, given the depth of expertise that is required by this project. Changes in key center staff and partners (e.g., senior research staff, project manager, or research partners) during the project period would constitute a major revision of the approved project and would require prior approval by ACF.
Dissemination Lead. The dissemination lead is a key member of the Center team. The dissemination lead must have significant experience and competences in high-quality and effective communication of findings from research, data, and relevant resources to a wide range of audiences, including researchers, federal and state policymakers, ACF grantees, and program administrators. The dissemination lead must be knowledgeable of diverse media, channels, and strategic partnerships.
Steering Committee. The Steering Committee will consist of the Center’s Director (or Co- Directors, if applicable), other selected key Center personnel, the FPO from OPRE, and other representatives of ACF (as determined by the FPO). This Steering Committee will meet regularly to discuss the Center’s plans, activities, and progress, with a focus on ACF’s goals for the Center. The Center Director and team will be responsible for day-to-day operations and decisions. The Steering Committee's responsibilities will include the following:
- Provide input on an agenda for the Center as well as more specific plans and products of the Center with an eye towards the Center's short- and long-term goals;
- Identify supplemental activities to address emerging programmatic concerns;
- Identify and support opportunities for dissemination of the Center's work;
- Identify opportunities for the Center to consult with policymakers and other key stakeholders;
- Facilitate communication and collaboration with other ACF-sponsored projects; and
- Provide problem-solving feedback regarding the Center.
The committee will meet via teleconference or in person as needed to support clarity and consistency in the Center’s mission and procedures and a robust on-going research portfolio.
Technical Work Group. The Center will nominate and establish a Technical Work Group made up of experts and stakeholders from outside of the grantee/funded institution(s) with research, programmatic, and lived-experience expertise in ACF’s programmatic areas of concern regarding African American children and families (see Section I. Program Description, Purpose, the third paragraph). This group of experts and stakeholders will provide input and feedback to inform priorities and refine plans for Center activities. The Technical Work Group will be regarded as a resource for the Center, supporting the Center in defining the state of the field; identifying forward-looking questions, concerns, and major gaps in the knowledge base; ensuring the community-engaged research focus of the Center; and supporting the ability of the Center to build research capacity while addressing issues relevant to policy and program leaders. The Center should convene and engage this group purposefully to help realize ACF’s goals for the Center and to expand the reach of the Center’s activities.
Efforts will be made in selecting this group to assure representation from a broad range of institutions (such as academic, research, policy, and program organizations) and fields of study. To enable deeper discussions on selected topics and connections among experts and stakeholders, it is expected that the Technical Work Group will meet at least once each year.
In support of the overarching grant program goals (see Section I. Program Description, Goals for details), the Center will be responsible for the following additional tasks:
Supplemental Activities. The Center is expected to plan for approximately 10 percent of its effort to support supplemental activities.
During the project period, the Center should have the ability to complete several supplemental activities, as needed, to respond to pressing research and policy needs that fall within the scope of the Center. For designing, refining, and carrying out these supplemental projects, the Center may work through a consultative process with federal staff, and, as needed and appropriate, with additional consultants and the Technical Work Group. It is expected that these activities may overlap to some extent with projects/efforts developed in pursuit of the Center's primary research, research capacity building, and communication goals.
Specific supplemental activities will be identified by the grantee during the grant. However, a few examples of potential activities include the following:
- Developing research briefs on specific topics of interest to ACF programs;
- Development and pilot testing of research protocols to better engage and reflect the experiences of African American children and families;
- Development and validation of survey instruments for inclusion in federal research examining experiences of African American populations with ACF programs; and
- Analyzing public or administrative data or other materials to address specific questions of interest.
Meetings and Conferences. Regular, in-person or virtual meetings can help deepen understanding, strengthen connections, and promote collaboration among individuals, institutions, and perspectives. In support of the research capacity-building and communication goals of this grant program, the grantee will be expected to attend (and, in some cases, to host) the following required meetings and conferences when they are held during the grant project period. The proposed budget should reflect funds for the Director (or Co-Directors) and at least one key personnel to attend the required meetings either virtually or in person and all costs and logistical support (i.e., hotel, travel, compensation) for any proposed meetings or conference activities.
- National Research Conference on Early Childhood (NRCEC). It is expected that key Center personnel will attend the biennial NRCEC, which is held in Washington. The next conference is expected to be held in the summer of 2022. This conference brings together researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to discuss the latest research surrounding Head Start, Early Head Start, child care, home visiting, child welfare, special education, pre-kindergarten, early elementary, and other early childhood programs. This provides an excellent opportunity for the Center to build relationships with key stakeholders and present research findings.
- Child Care and Early Education Policy Research Consortium (CCEEPRC) Annual Meeting. It is expected that key Center personnel will attend the annual meeting of CCEEPRC, which is typically held in the spring in Washington, DC. The meeting brings together grantees and contracted researchers funded by ACF and federal and state CCDF administrators to discuss child care policy research and is an excellent opportunity for the Center to build relationships with key stakeholders and to discuss implications of research developments and the Center’s work. The next CCEEPRC annual meeting is scheduled to take place in Washington, DC, over 2 days in March 2022.
- Research and Evaluation Conference on Self-Sufficiency (RECS). It is expected that key Center personnel will attend the biennial RECS, which is expected to be held May 2022 in Washington DC. This conference, which brings together researchers and administrators to discuss cutting-edge research related to a range of anti-poverty programs and policies, is an excellent opportunity for the Center to build relationships with key stakeholders and present research findings.
- Other opportunities to meet with ACF. In addition, OPRE will identify and facilitate opportunities to present Center work and engage with federal and state policymakers, program administrators, ACF technical assistance providers, ACF-sponsored research teams, and other stakeholders to maximize timely information sharing and coordination as appropriate.
Recipients under this grant program may opt to transfer a portion of substantive programmatic work to other organizations through subaward(s). The prime recipient must maintain a substantive role in the project. ACF defines a substantive role as conducting activities and/or providing services funded under the award that are necessary and integral to the completion of the project. Subrecipient monitoring activities alone, as specified in 45 CFR § 75.352, do not constitute a substantive role. Furthermore, ACF does not fund awards where the role of the applicant is primarily to serve as a conduit for passing funds to other organizations unless that arrangement is authorized by statute.
Subrecipient(s) must meet the eligibility requirements identified in the FOA, Section III.1. Eligible Applicants. Additionally, all subrecipient(s) must obtain a Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number, or after government-wide implementation, a Unique Entity Identifier assigned by the System for Award Management (SAM), if they do not already have one. Prime recipients are required to check the SAM to verify that the subrecipient(s) is/are not debarred, suspended, or ineligible. Please reference the Award Term and Condition on Subawards on the ACF Administrative and National Policy Requirements website for further requirements involving subawards.