Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

In Massachusetts, too many family live in “child care deserts” — communities where the demand for child care is far greater than the supply of high-quality spots.

“Despite the more than 8,000 licensed child care providers across the state, Massachusetts, like so many other areas across the country, is facing a child care crisis,” the national nonprofit Child Care Aware noted last year in its inaugural report, “Child Care Deserts: Developing Solutions to Child Care Supply and Demand.”

“… we found that these deserts are especially prevalent in low-income communities, rural communities, among families of color, and among families with irregular or nontraditional work schedules.”

Now, Child Care Aware is providing an interactive look at child care deserts in Massachusetts through a new “story map.”

Story maps are a unique advocacy tool because they bring data to life. The maps are created by an app that let users combine maps, narrative text, images, and multimedia content. Story maps can be used to create everything from annual reports and virtual tours of college campuses to the history of a city’s public art to a crowd-sourced map of the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey.

To create a child care story map for Massachusetts, Child Care Aware looked at three issues:

• the overall supply of child care slots and the number of working parents

• “Whether Child Care Development Fund subsidies mirror the demand for those subsidies,” and

• the availability of licensed care for parents who do shift-work or who work non-traditional hours

Among Child Care Aware’s observations:

• Massachusetts has a deficit of 93,119 slots. So, “when licensed programs are full, nearly 1 in 4 Massachusetts children in working families is left without access to child care.” 

• Boston has a “high unmet need, meaning more quality child care slots are required to accommodate the population of children.”

• In Suffolk County, “nearly 1 in 3 children under age 6 in working families do not have access to licensed child care.”

• “Center-based child care costs 149% of the median income for married families with two children living at the poverty line – Family Child Care costs 103% of the median income.”

Another important observation: there are more child care deserts at night – since most providers shut down between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Why is this important? Here’s one reason:

“The existence of casino jobs in the state will provide economic benefits and more job opportunities for the communities in which they reside. However, casinos and businesses in the area are often open very late–sometimes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Workers with young children will need quality child care past 6:00 pm, during the night time hours, early mornings, and weekends.”

Workers in other industries – hotels, restaurants, cleaning – also work late hours and could benefit from having more access to high-quality child care programs that operate at night.

To address these gaps in child care, Child Care Aware recommends:

• increasing child care funding

• building relationships between affected communities and businesses such as casinos, and

• monitoring child care access

Child Care Aware has a created a crucial baseline that Massachusetts officials can build on to track. “As policy, funding, and the population in Massachusetts changes, the data and the maps should be re-visited to inform new policies and best serve families.”

Gathering and mapping data could bring much needed water (in the form of high-quality child care slots) to the state’s child care deserts.