Analyzing data and organizing community engagement sessions to identify the barriers faced by families living in formerly redlined areas of Racine to accessing early childhood education.
In the largest and most diverse school district in Racine County, Wisconsin, enrollment in early childhood education is declining. Higher Expectations for Racine County (Higher Expectations) an initiative of the United Way of Racine County, sought to identify the barriers that limit families’ access to early childhood services, which are a critical component of educational achievement and community health. By building a better understanding of existing barriers, Higher Expectations identified community-wide policy changes that will reduce inequities in Racine’s historically redlined neighborhoods.
Higher Expectations focused on families living in historically redlined neighborhoods to ensure that its work centered on communities that have been most affected by systemic racism. The project began with an analysis of the share of eligible children enrolled in early childhood education programs, as well as an affordability measure of early childhood education within each of these neighborhoods. To supplement these data with qualitative findings, a community power consultant helped conduct engagement sessions in each neighborhood focused on eliciting firsthand accounts of barriers to early childhood education and resources. The engagement sessions have included brainstorming with residents about potential solutions and neighborhood action plans. The research team also conducted a survey of child care centers to better understand the challenges they face. In addition, Higher Expectations produced a map visualizing the distribution and concentration of child care centers across the county.
Higher Expectations’ engagement with families and child care providers yielded several key findings. Conversations with family members found that cost was by far the largest barrier to sending their children to child care. Secondary barriers included incompatible hours of operation, limited openings at desirable child care centers, and concerns about the quality of care provided. On the provider side, they found that labor was a primary driver of these costs, which has made it challenging for small providers to keep up with larger providers. They also found that Black-owned child care centers had more difficulty getting accreditations, a product of the bias built into child care quality measures. From its spatial analysis, Higher Expectations found that population density and lower property values were the key drivers of provider locations. Higher Expectations produced a final data handout with the results of its analyses, incorporated feedback from community members on proposed solutions, and will hold an event to share the results with community leaders. Findings were also shared with partners in the Strive Together Network.
With the support of these data and networks built throughout the project, community stakeholders are better equipped to advocate for specific policies, including budget decisions by local government partners to reduce the costs of child care. The findings will also help the City of Racine implement effective programs for economic inclusion and community development and will support Racine Unified School District’s early learning programs and the Racine County Department of Human Services’ prenatal and parenting programs.