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West Virginia Advocates Develop a New Tool for Analyzing and Communicating the State’s Child Care Needs

TEAM for West Virginia Children, the West Virginia Association for Young Children and Child Care Aware of America roll out interactive map illustrating the gap between child care supply and demand.

Earlier this year, a cohort of national and state early childhood organizations rolled out a new child care dashboard that illustrates gaps in West Virginia’s child care supply. 

The creators of this resource characterize this interactive map as a tool for “mapping the gap” between the demand for and supply of child care.

Equipping policymakers, businesses, advocates and the public with data illuminating this gap enables leaders to advance data-supported solutions to increase the supply of child care to better meet demand.

TEAM for West Virginia Children, the West Virginia Association for Young Children, and Child Care Aware® of America (CCAoA), built this dashboard in partnership, as part of a project supported by the Alliance for Early Success. The dashboard was released earlier this year in recognition of the West Virginia Legislature’s first annual Child Care Day. The resource drills down to the county, electoral district and census tract level, including the locations of the state’s 1,324 early childhood providers; whether the provider is a family provider, center-based, or Head Start; and where providers are located. The tool also includes information about school-aged and summer providers.

“The dashboard has so much potential,” says Jim McKay, state director for Prevent Child Abuse West Virginia, a project of TEAM for West Virginia Children. “It helps policymakers see and better understand the child care issues facing families in their districts and can also help many other groups.”

Policymakers can use this tool to identify local and state level child care gaps. According to the dashboard, as of August 2023, 41.6 percent – or approximately 26,000 children – of West Virginia’s children under 6 years old  need but lack access to child care. Policymakers can also view county-level data and even information about individual programs, including operating hours and licensed capacity. .

Companies can use the dashboard to answer strategic questions about expansion and employment, including determining whether the communities they operate in have the necessary child care supply to support their employees. Lack of access to child care can drive employee absenteeism. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2021 12.5 percent of West Virginia’s workforce missed at least one day of work because of unmet child care needs.

Advocates can use the dashboard to illustrate supply gaps and make the case for increased government support for child care. For example, though Calhoun County has a population of 6,200, the county is home to only one licensed family child care provider with a capacity to serve only six children. Similarly, Clay County, with a population of nearly 7,900, only has one licensed family child care provider that can serve only 12 children; in pockets of the county, 100 percent of children under 6 years old lack access to care. Even Jefferson County, which has over 40 providers, strugglesto recruit businesses because the supply falls well short of meeting the need.

“As businesses seek to recruit workers in a tight labor market, understanding child care supply – and where that supply falls short – can help us make smart choices about investing in this critical resource,” says Diane Girouard, state policy senior analyst at CCAoA. Girouard worked with the West Virginia organizations to develop the dashboard. “A map like this one, which illustrates both the quantity and type of child care available to families, is a powerful tool to clearly define the child care crisis to policymakers.”

CCAoA has built child care mapping tools in other parts of the country, including Texas, where advocates used the powerful resource to show, for example, that only 1.6% of programs that received stabilization grants closed from March 2020-September 2021, suggesting this funding helped stabilize and protect the child care supply in the region.

Though these maps have their limitations, the resource was designed to make it easier to view and understand the impact stabilization grants and other funding have had in the region, while also illustrating the need to better support child care providers in rural areas. While West Virginia – and states across the country – continue to recover from the destabilizing effects of the pandemic, data maps like this one can help local and state governments, as well as national leaders, make smart policy decisions to build the child care systems our nation’s children, families, providers, and employers need to thrive.

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