Indiana’s new Early Learning Access Index visualizes the factors that impact access to high-quality early care and education opportunities beyond the county level, down to individual census tracts, including in rural communities. Advocates are excited that the data will provide a new robust assessment of quality and access for Indiana families.
Alliance state ally Early Learning Indiana identified a need for better community-level data on early learning access. Advocates and community members wanted to know whether the supply of child care was meeting Indiana families’ needs. As a response to these community questions, Early Learning Indiana developed the Early Learning Access Index to better understand supply and access dynamics from community to community.
Based on family research data collected from 2019 focus groups and family surveys, as well the most common issues reported from families calling into the Brighter Futures Indiana Solution Center, Early Learning Indiana understood that families’ ability to access high-quality child care in their communities is often complex and cannot be defined by just one component. Based on this experience, they built the Access Index to consider four interdependent elements: capacity, quality, affordability, and choice. The Early Learning Indiana project team began working on the Access Index in November 2020 by creating parameters around Census data sets representing the four components and analyzing the data to understand inequities.
The Access Index has already changed how Early Learning Indiana and its allies do business. The team describes that advocacy and policy conversations have been richer, leading to more innovative ideas to improve the early learning system. In addition, the Access Index provides advocates with information for talking points when meeting with community partners and policy makers. Early Learning Indiana is also encouraging local stakeholders to use the tool to develop and implement changes that can expand access in their communities.
Along with the Access Index, Early Learning Indiana released Closing the Gap: An Assessment of Indiana’s Early Learning Opportunities, a report that summarizes their findings from the Index and transforms traditional child care desert analyses, by providing a more comprehensive and integrated approach to understand what factors affect accessibility. And with support from the Lilly Endowment Inc., they created a Closing the Gap grant to help communities address gaps in access to high-quality early learning opportunities, as identified by the Access Index. In December 2021, Early Learning Indiana awarded $1.7 million to 18 organizations around Indiana, representing 18 unique counties. Through the grantees’ proposals, they will add more than 900 high-quality child care seats in their communities.
Early Learning Indiana believes that the Access Index will be used across Indiana, and potentially beyond, to qualify and quantify local child care access for a range of community stakeholders. These rich data, reflective of local conditions and the needs of families, can help families access child care and inform policy change for young children and their families.