Mapping Child Care Deserts in Texas

Over the summer, we worked with Children at Risk to develop a map of child care deserts in Texas. The map shows where there aren’t enough child care providers, as well as where there is a lack of subsidized seats or high quality providers.

Then, using the map as a jumping off point, Children at Risk visited nine cities in Texas. They performed a special analysis for each city, then hosted community meetings to discuss child care access, quality, and affordability. The links to each analysis are at the end of this blog.

This map is a summary of the complete Texas child care desert map:

This is a limited version of the child care desert map. View the full map here.

What are child care deserts?

The Center for American Progress coined the term child care desert, which refers to a census tract with at least 50 children, with either zero child care providers, or a 3:1 (or greater) ratio of children under 5 to child care capacity.

Children at Risk builds upon this idea with a child care desert definition that uses state-specific indicators. These additional data shed light on the actual availability and affordability of high quality child care. Leading this research are Shay Everitt, David McClendon, and Patrick Gill.

There are four desert layers on the map:

  • Child care deserts:  the demand for child care is three times greater or more than the total licensed capacity of child care providers in the area.
  • Subsidized child care deserts: the demand for subsidized child care is three times greater or more than the total number of subsidized seats offered by child care providers in the area.
  • Texas Rising Star (TRS) deserts: the demand for subsidized child care is three times greater or more than the supply of Texas Rising Star-certified child care.
  • TRS Level 4 deserts: the demand for subsidized child care is three times greater or more than the supply of Texas Rising Star Level 4-certified child care.

For child care deserts, Children at Risk started by calculating child care demand by looking at zip code tract areas (ZCTAs) with at least 30 children ages 0-5 with working parents. If a ZCTA met that threshold, Children at Risk would look at the capacity of licensed providers and the estimated number of children.

For subsidized child care deserts, they calculated subsidized child care demand by looking at ZCTAs with at least 30 children ages 0-5 with working parents living below 200% of the federal poverty line. If a ZCTA met that threshold, Children at Risk would look at the capacity of licensed providers accepting subsidies, and the estimated number of children who could use those seats.

If a ZCTA did not meet the 30 child threshold, it was marked “Not a Desert.” So a severe child care desert might not be a subsidized child care desert because it did not meet the 30 child minimum for a subsidized desert. And some ZCTAs might not appear at all, failing to meet the 30 child minimum in both cases.

Read more about Children at Risk’s methodology.

Snapshot of traditional child care deserts in Houston

Desert type #1: traditional child care deserts

The traditional child care desert layer uses the Center for American Progress definition as a starting point. This layer looks at the total distribution of all licensed child care centers across Texas.

In Texas, all child care providers need to obtain a license from the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) in order to do business here.

The minimum standards for DFPS child care center licensing include regulations about record keeping, personnel, ratios and class sizes, nutrition, health, and safety.

And while these minimum standards also include some professional development requirements and developmental activity guidelines, they do not provide educational guidance. This is left to the accreditation and certification bodies.

In other words, each provider determines their own educational components. Which means that quality varies. A lot.

The ZCTAs highlighted in this layer have a serious deficit of all child care providers, regardless of quality or affordability.

Snapshot of subsidized child care deserts in San Antonio

Desert #2: subsidized child care deserts

The next layer looks at affordability based on the number of subsidized child care seats available. The Texas Workforce Commission has a Child Care Services program that subsidizes child care for low income families.

But not every child care provider accepts subsidies. In fact, only about half of child care providers in Texas accept subsidies at all. The Texas Workforce Commission provides a modest increase in reimbursements for TRS-certified providers, but it’s clear that those incentives aren’t enough to meet demand.

Across the state, there are about 222,000 more low-income children than subsidized child care seats.

austin texas rising star child care deserts

Snapshot of Texas Rising Star deserts in Austin

Desert #3: Texas Rising Star deserts

This layer looks at the distribution of quality child care centers based on the number of Texas Rising Star (TRS) certified centers. Texas Rising Star is a “quality rating and improvement system” that sets common standards across Texas, allowing us to compare different regions across the state.

TRS uses a star rating system to indicate quality. The stars are determined by a somewhat complicated formula that takes into account staff training, on-site observations, curriculum, nutrition, activities, and parent involvement. A TRS provider can be 2-star, 3-star, or 4-star. The number of stars is determined by the formula outcome, with a few safeguards to ensure 3-star and 4-star quality.

A TRS desert has fewer TRS-certified provider seats of any star level than the number of low-income children in that ZCTA.

dallas fort worth texas rising star 4 star deserts Snapshot of TRS 4 star deserts in the Dallas/Ft. Worth region

Desert #4: TRS 4 star deserts

This layer looks at the distribution of the highest TRS quality designation. A TRS 4-star provider has an average score of 2.4 or greater on the 0-3 point TRS scoring system. These providers are the benchmark for high quality early childhood education. The TRS 4 star desert shows how few child care providers actually meet this quality standard.

A statewide civic engagement campaign

After performing their analysis and launching the map, Children at Risk went on a “Texas Tour” to meet with communities across the state.

The Children at Risk team analyzed the state of child care in nine cities across Texas, including:

Click on the links above to read an in-depth analysis of each city.

A statewide analysis, broken down by key regions, is a great approach to community engagement. It provides a single map for the team to share across the state, but it localizes content and analysis for each city.

My main takeaway? Children at Risk has an incredible staff of researchers and policy advisors who are pioneering the use of data in their advocacy.

 

Jeff Reichman

Jeff is passionate about data. He founded January Advisors and Sketch City, and serves on the board of the League of Women Voters of the Houston Area. Read his full bio on LinkedIn.

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