Every state has the goal of providing quality early childhood services to children and families in the greatest need. While the typical approach is to construct ECIDS from the ground up using existing data, 3Si’s method flips the script. We first ponder the core questions relevant to better serving children and families, and work from there to bridge gaps in needed data. This approach invariably reveals the need to encompass the entire child population, both served and unserved, despite incomplete data.
- What is the total child population in the state? What is the age, socio-economic, racial/ethnic, and geographic distribution of this population?
By answering these questions, states can establish a baseline of the total population they could conceivably serve and understand which groups of children and communities should be considered as states contemplate early childhood policies and planning efforts.
- How many of these children are eligible for funded programs like subsidy child care, Head Start, etc., categorized by age and geography?
This question helps states understand the potential demand for early childhood services and identify the eligible children who need these services the most. Knowing this information helps states allocate their resources effectively and reach vulnerable children in remote or underfunded areas.
- How many children are served by various combinations of early childhood services (e.g., private providers, public Pre-K, subsidy), segmented by age and geography?
The early childhood space is a complex ecosystem of services and programs, many of which are complementary and serve similar populations or the same children. When states understand how these services and providers are currently working together and how they overlap with one another, they can establish a clear picture of the overall mixed delivery system. This picture is needed before states can make informed decisions that typically affect multiple related programs.
- What is the gap between children eligible for and receiving early childhood services? How do these access gaps vary by geography or community?
By assessing the gap between the number of children eligible for early childhood services and those currently served, states can determine where and how to invest in programs to fill those gaps. For instance, identifying access deserts (areas with significant shortfalls in early childhood service providers relative to overall need) helps states prioritize which areas need support to build a robust early childhood system.
States are tasked with cultivating strong early childhood services as one component of the country’s socio-economic and cultural development. By answering these foundational questions, states can develop effective strategies to scale up or otherwise manage their early childhood programs that provide inclusive and equitable services to all kids. Answering the above questions can help states establish their baseline levels of service, identify their goals and where their strengths and opportunities lie, and focus their efforts on achieving their objectives. This foundation leads to critical use cases to improve child outcomes and support a brighter future for the next generation.