Analyzing data on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young children and the systems that serve them in Hartford, Connecticut.
After more than 100 years of housing discrimination and redlining policies, Hartford, Connecticut, remains a racially segregated city with a high concentration of Black and Latino households. A long history of community disinvestment has led to concentrated poverty and constrained educational and economic opportunities for its residents. This situation was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which strained many community support systems including the early care and education (ECE) system. Ensuring that all families have access to high-quality ECE programming and early intervention services will help promote equity in children’s school readiness and their lifelong employment, earnings, and health outcomes.
To understand the impacts of the pandemic on Hartford’s ECE system and children’s outcomes and to cocreate community-based solutions, the Connecticut Data Collaborative (CTData) embarked on a research project in partnership with the City of Hartford’s Early Learning Division. CTData is a Hartford-based nonprofit with a mission to connect people and data to promote informed decisionmaking and to advance equity in Connecticut. Hartford’s Early Learning Division is a municipal department that oversees the city’s early childhood initiatives and implements a coordinated early childhood plan.
The project team collected and analyzed administrative data, surveyed Hartford child care providers, and convened three focus groups with parents of young children in the city to understand the pandemic’s impacts on children’s emotional and behavioral development, Hartford’s ECE system, and early intervention services. With the aim of promoting equitable pandemic recovery for Hartford’s young children, the team is assessing the current needs of child care providers and families, exploring opportunities for systemic change, and examining how the impacts of the pandemic differ by neighborhood, children’s race and ethnicity, whether the family speaks a language other than English in the home, and family income level.
The child care provider survey highlighted significant stress levels among child care center administrators and staff, with 84 percent of center administrators saying that they felt stressed or burnt out on the job and more than half saying they are considering leaving the industry. Center administrators’ responses also showed serious concerns about children’s language and cognitive development, as well as heightened difficulties with attention and emotional and behavioral regulation.
In the parent focus groups, many parents expressed concern that the pandemic had negatively impacted their young children’s development, in particular their social skills. Parents also emphasized the financial and emotional strain placed on them during the pandemic, including job losses and missing work because of frequent and unpredictable child care disruptions. Regarding barriers to equitable child care access in Hartford, the parent focus groups underscored the need to expand access to child care subsidies for working families that are not income-eligible under the state’s current subsidy system but still struggle to afford child care, and the need to improve families’ awareness of the resources available to help them find child care. CTData’s findings from the administrative data are still forthcoming.
CTData has shared findings from the project with Hartford’s Early Learning Division, and the city will be using its findings to guide its collective impact work. CTData also plans to organize a data walk with community organizations, child care providers, and parents of young children to cocreate solutions toward an equitable pandemic recovery for Hartford’s young children. CTData will continue to build off its work through its engagement with local early childhood initiatives, including the North Hartford Ascend Pipeline cradle-to-career effort being led by Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, the “Connecticut 359” early childhood policy action network, and a project by the University of Connecticut’s Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities to improve processes for identifying and enrolling children in early intervention services.