Report Calls for Child Care Solutions to Focus on Most Vulnerable Communities

Child care remains a challenging and pricey service to secure universally. Stakeholders like business leaders, advocates, and policymakers at the local and state levels are grappling with finding solutions to this predicament statewide.

A recent report from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) highlights the disparities in early childhood access and opportunities, particularly in certain underserved communities across the state.

According to the report, communities with low Child Opportunity Index (COI) scores, especially in the northeastern part of the state, exhibit a dearth of high-quality early childhood programs.

The COI evaluates neighborhood attributes crucial for children’s well-being, such as access to quality education, clean environment, healthcare services, and safe housing.

With the looming funding crisis for early childhood programs projected for the end of June, it is crucial to direct specific attention to regions where families and young children face challenges due to lower COI scores.

This impending fiscal cliff poses the greatest threat to those with limited financial resources, making them more susceptible to adverse impacts from sudden catastrophes, as per Iruka, an FPG fellow and the Equity Research Action Coalition’s founding director.

In states where federal funds have been depleted, child care services have become scarcer and more costly. Advocates in North Carolina are particularly concerned about the sustainability of programs as funding ends, hampering their ability to offer competitive wages to teachers.

Identifying Vulnerable Communities

According to the report, areas with higher COI scores are concentrated in urban spaces like the Triangle, Triad, and Mecklenburg County, while regions with lower scores are mainly situated in far-flung parts like Hyde and Bertie counties in the east and Graham and Cherokee counties in the west.

The incidence of high-quality licensed child care centers correlates with areas boasting higher COI scores, emphasizing the scarcity of such options in the northeastern region of the state.

At the micro-level of census tracts, the report revealed that quality child care centers serving high, moderate, and low-opportunity neighborhoods were proportionate. However, this equality does not signify an adequate number of quality programs in low-opportunity communities, where the demand surpasses the supply.

The report also analyzed the penetration of public funding streams aimed at aiding low-income families with young children.

NC Pre-K and Title 1 funding intended for pre-K, primarily catering to 4-year-olds, were reaching a higher proportion of children in low COI score areas, aligning with their intended focus on students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

A similar pattern was observed with child care subsidy slots, where even distribution was noted across COI ratings at the county level, ensuring that children in low-opportunity zones received adequate support.

The report underscored the importance of addressing wage disparities in the early childhood workforce, strengthening quality programming through sufficient subsidy rates, and implementing comprehensive equity analyses to identify and support communities furthest from opportunity.

Actions to Take

The report advocates for a targeted approach to support populations and communities facing barriers to opportunity, emphasizing the importance of quality improvement efforts, equity in access and resources, and strategic initiatives to uplift marginalized groups like racially and ethnically minoritized populations, infants and toddlers, and communities of concentrated poverty.

Furthermore, focusing on family child care, addressing poverty-level wages, and ensuring data governance for equity analyses are essential steps to enhance access and quality across the early care and education landscape.

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