ey kids and teacher sitting at the table and playing with toys

Utilizing data-driven decision-making to tackle the childcare problems

Addressing childcare problems requires comprehensive, data-driven strategies and significant policy interventions.

In brief
  • Rising concerns over childcare cost, quality, and availability plague working families amid high expenses and complex challenges.
  • A 2023 Executive Order aimed to improve the accessibility, affordability, and quality of childcare services while supporting childcare workers.
  • Data analysis can offer insights into childcare needs and gaps, aiding the creation of strategies to improve affordability and quality.

Families in the workforce are voicing their concerns about the quality and cost of childcare. To those who must navigate several challenges affecting their day-to-day livelihood, including an uncertain economy, high-quality and affordable early childhood education centers and the care that they provide are necessary for these families to thrive. Recent research indicates that childcare costs may account for 8% to 19.3% of a median family income, per child. That could equate up to $15,417 per year for infant center-based care. These alarming figures reflect the reality that many families are grappling with.

Attaining affordable, accessible and high-quality childcare is similar to solving a complex jigsaw puzzle. Each piece corresponds to a critical element including cost, location, quality, safety and availability. Just like a puzzle, it is expected that all pieces fit perfectly to complete the ideal image of childcare. Though, achieving this ideal image does not come easy or cheap. Limitations in these elements are overwhelmingly prevalent in today’s overarching childcare conundrum.

The childcare problem:

1. Affordability: The high cost of childcare continues to be a major burden for many families. The annual cost of childcare for one infant exceeds the cost of a year’s tuition at most state colleges in a significant number of states.

2. Accessibility: Many regions, especially rural areas, face a shortage of available childcare providers, leading to what’s often termed as “childcare deserts.” This makes it challenging for parents to find quality childcare close to home or work.

3. Quality: Ensuring high-quality childcare that promotes healthy development is a significant challenge. Licensing and quality standards and regulations vary significantly across states, and even among providers within states.

4. Workforce issues: Childcare workers are often underpaid, poorly trained and lack benefits, leading to high turnover rates, which affects continuity of care.

5. Flexible care options: Traditional childcare services often don’t cater adequately to nonstandard work schedules, a predicament faced by a growing number of families.

7. Lack of investment: Investment in early childhood education is low compared to other developed countries, which often correlates with issues of affordability, quality and accessibility.

To respond to these voiced concerns, new champions of childcare change have been uncovered in recent years. Families are telling their stories and policymakers are flooded with concerns, educating them on the struggles associated with finding affordable, accessible and quality childcare. There have been hundreds of legislative initiatives in the last calendar year covering topics such as childcare subsidies and financing, governance, school readiness, equity and more. States are enacting legislation in the collective response to create better solutions for families. However, there is still work to be done.

In an effort to invest in strategies to combat childcare problems, the White House released an executive order in 2023 underscoring the importance of making childcare more accessible for working families, improving job quality for childcare workers, providing support to working caregivers and decreasing inequities in caregiving employment and access to care. 

 2023 White House Executive Order in brief:

 The executive order emphasizes increasing access to high-quality care and supporting caregivers. It outlines measures for the federal government to coordinate efforts to improve the accessibility, affordability and quality of care services. It also encourages policy changes that increase support for caregivers, recognizing their crucial role in providing care.

Key features of the order include:

  • Directing relevant federal agencies to develop a strategy for improving care services
  • Encouraging more substantial financial support for caregivers
  • Advancing research to improve the availability of quality care
  • Promoting training programs for caregivers
  • Supporting care facilities to enhance the quality of care

This increasing dialogue, reflected by startling cost statistics mentioned earlier, underscores the need for more affordable, efficient and actionable childcare solutions. By diving deeper into these issues and recognizing the real-life implications of poor childcare programs, state agencies are often left with no choice but to think strategically and explore options for a more informed, data-driven approach to respond to childcare challenges.

Better data analysis can help childcare problems

By assessing wide ranging datasets and using advanced predictive analytic methods and scenario planning, agencies can gain insights into pivotal factors such as understanding unmet care needs, identifying gaps in service accessibility, assessing quality of care and determining financial implications. Armed with these insights, agencies, policymakers, providers and families can make educated decisions, develop responsive strategies, and create supportive frameworks that positively affect childcare workers and families who use their services. Comparable to finding that missing piece of the puzzle, using data can bring clarity and direction in the initiative to increase access to and the quality of childcare.

States agencies are required to consistently collect and update data on childcare. They then report data to the federal government as part of their obligations under the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF), a primary source of federal funding for childcare subsidies. This includes data on the children and families receiving subsidies, the types of care they use, the cost and duration of subsidized care, and the providers of such care.

The data is used by the Office of Child Care in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for Congressional reporting, budgeting, and the development of research and policy studies, as well as by states for management and evaluation of their programs.

Furthermore, states are also encouraged to collect additional data to gain a more comprehensive understanding of childcare needs, availability and quality within their jurisdiction to inform policy decisions. This data may include the number of childcare centers and the number of children they serve. In this data collection, there is a gap in the ability to analyze and cross-reference that data that create meaningful funding allocation opportunities. With an influx of data, there needs to be an efficient way to track data-informed decisions to assess their impacts and effectiveness in the long term.

Often data analysis, which could be beneficial in real time, can take weeks or even months due to complexity and volume. Regrettably, much of the data analyzed is frequently outdated and, consequently, not useful in constructing an effective strategy. It becomes challenging to identify where essential workers reside for targeted provider support or to determine which regions are lacking in childcare spaces or those that are oversupplied. Using data to predict rising childcare needs due to population growth or decreasing needs as children age out of care is difficult.

In addition, the inability to track the outcomes of the funding allocated to centers is a major concern. It becomes nearly impossible to identify areas where centers are closing despite funding or where the demand for slots continues to outpace the supply.

In this landscape, states resort to the options available to them for funding and maintaining quality childcare centers without being able to translate the data they have to make the best possible decision. By integrating the available data and coupling it with up-to-date data tracing and analysis tools, agencies can do more than just comply with childcare data collection regulations. They can begin to use the data to explore solutions to help make impactful decisions regarding childcare provision. This level of detail and timeliness in data can also significantly influence decision-making, potentially leading to tailored and improved outcomes.

Questions to consider if data-driven insights can help solve childcare problems

As state agencies continue to seek new strategies for disbursing childcare funds and respond to the voiced challenges and new legislation in childcare service delivery, employing a modern data analysis program can help to answer these vital questions:

  • Is there sufficient capacity available for children who need childcare, including those that are eligible for subsidized care?
  • Is there adequate availability in all communities?
  • Is the distribution of funds equitable?
  • Based on the data, can you predict childcare demand trends and those that will age out?

By taking this systematic, data-driven approach, childcare challenges can be dealt with more effectively, accurately targeting the root causes and measuring the success of solutions. Ultimately, this can lead to improved childcare quality, affordability and accessibility.


Addressing childcare problems requires comprehensive, data-driven strategies and significant policy interventions, with an emphasis on creating a sustainable and resilient childcare system that supports all working families.

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