The Office of Child Care has recently announced some significant recommendations to the federal guidelines regarding the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF). The changes are extensive, but a common theme is how difficult decision making is when child care/early childhood education data is limited and siloed.
The Current Challenge: Fragmented, Antiquated, and Passive Data
Fragmented Data: ECE data is often scattered across various databases, including licensing, Quality/QRIS, and direct provider inputs such as CCMS for vacancy and pricing data. The lack of Integration leads to inconsistencies and makes it difficult to see gaps at a birds-eye-view level.
Antiquated Data: The burden of consolidating multiple data sources means that it’s often only done once a year, and the data is old by the time it reaches a report. Subsequently, important policy and investment decisions are based on antiquated information.
Flat Data: When the databases are finally consolidated, the data often goes into flat, passive charts and spreadsheets in a large PDF. Agencies, policymakers, and advocacy groups have a difficult time finding those reports and adapting the data for their needs.
What is the Office of Child Care Proposing?
The new guidelines recommend lead Agencies to provide a list of data sources identifying shortages and provide a description of shortages and supply of care in their CCDF funds.
“Lead Agencies need clear data and strategies to address gaps in the supply of child care. However, current reporting requirements make it difficult to understand supply assessments. Therefore, we also propose to split the provision at § 98.16(x) into two provisions to improve reporting on strategies to meet the statutory requirement for Lead Agencies to take steps to increase the supply and improve the quality of child care services for children in underserved areas, infants and toddlers, children with disabilities, and children who receive care during nontraditional hours. At revised proposed paragraph (x), we continue to require Lead Agencies include in their CCDF plans a description of the supply of care, including identifying shortages in the supply of high-quality providers and a list of the data sources used to identify the shortages.”
What can Agencies and Government Organizations do ?
The new guidelines propose a more dynamic and integrated approach to handle these challenges. Here's what needs to be done:
Real-Time Data Integrations: By connecting various databases in real-time and creating a more cohesive and up-to-date picture of child care supply and demand
User-Friendly Reports and Maps: Automated reports and maps that feed real-time data providing stakeholders with instant insights.
An Example: Maryland Family Network (via the Maryland Department of Education)
Maryland Family Network, through its partnership with Upfront, released a real-time child care desert map for the state to make optimized policy and investment decisions. The map consolidates multiple data sources: Licensing, Quality/QRIS, and direct provider inputs which are then calculated with the number of children under 5 in the corresponding region. Explore the map here: https://locatesearch.marylandfamilynetwork.org/map
The new federal guidelines by the Office of Child Care mark a significant step toward a more transparent and responsive child care system. By recognizing the challenges in the current methodology and proposing integrated, real-time solutions, they set a path for a more inclusive and accurate understanding of child care needs.