Each month, the state’s Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) releases a report more than 800 pages long detailing enrollment in licensed child care sites across North Carolina.
Using the January 2023 report, EdNC looked at data for the eight counties in which more than half of the population identifies as Black or mixed race: Bertie, Edgecombe, Halifax, Hertford, Northampton, Washington, Warren, and Vance. All eight counties are rural and are in the Northeast region of the state.
Based on the data, there are two noteworthy differences between licensed child care sites in these majority-Black counties and those in the other 92 counties.
Licensed sites: homes v. centers
In majority-Black counties, 31% of licensed child care sites are based in homes. This is 9 percentage points higher than the rest of the state (22%).
There are several potential reasons for this difference.
According to a September 2022 report about the potential for growth of home-based child care in North Carolina, “Many parents choose (home-based child care), especially for infants and toddlers, because it is often close to home, affordable, flexible, and can foster a child care environment that shares the family’s cultural norms and values.”
Louise Stoney, author of the report, points out that Black families “are over-represented in jobs with low wages, little flexibility and few opportunities to work remotely.” This means Black parents are likely to need child care to go to work, but face barriers to using child care centers that typically cost more than home-based sites and operate within fixed hours.
Home-based child care — referred to as “family child care homes” by DCDEE — can also be helpful in rural areas where the distances between home, work, and a child care center might be wide. Since all of the state’s majority-Black counties are rural, this may be another reason for the higher proportion of home-based sites in Black counties.
The Stoney report recommends several next steps for expanding home-based care in North Carolina, including outreach and support of unlicensed home-based providers who want to become licensed, and doing more to facilitate connections among family child care homes.
That should happen this year.
This month, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) received a $4 million Preschool Development Grant from the federal government, which it will use to support family child care homes.
According to the press release announcing the grant, DHHS will focus on “identifying needs, challenges and barriers faced by family child care homes” and “increasing access to quality early care and learning by strengthening the (family child care homes) network,” among other activities.
Licensed child care sites in North Carolina receive a star rating on a scale of one to five, with five stars being the highest. To move up the ratings scale, sites must meet higher and higher standards.
Families who receive help paying for child care in the form of subsidies from DCDEE must enroll their children in sites rated at least three stars. That means only three-star sites and higher are eligible to accept subsidies as payment, and they may choose whether to do so.
The proportion of licensed child care sites accepting subsidies statewide is 70%. But in majority-Black counties, it’s 63%. That gap raises one obvious question: Why?
The short answer is that we’re not sure, and neither are the folks at DCDEE.
One possibility is that majority-Black counties have fewer licensed child care sites rated at least three stars.
However, a close look at Bertie County reveals that every child care center and home is eligible to accept subsidies, but only 58% do.
Another possibility is that fewer families are eligible to use subsidies to pay for child care in majority-Black counties. This information is not available in the Child Care Statistical Report, but there are eligibility requirements that can operate as barriers to accessing subsidized child care.
One more possibility is that the demand for child care in these counties is so high that there’s heavy competition for slots in licensed sites and centers. More competition means higher prices, which serve as a disincentive for accepting subsidies — why accept subsidized payments based on outdated market rates for child care when there’s enough demand from families who are willing and able to pay the market rate?
DCDEE acknowledged all of these possibilities, and also pointed EdNC to its most recent market rate study. The study includes a survey of providers that asks those who do not accept subsidies why they’ve made that choice (see page 30). The most common answer in both homes and centers is that the providers “do not serve parent/families who qualify for the program.” That response seems to point back to the issue of subsidy eligibility, which is something DCDEE is already working on.
It’s also possible that similar trends exist in rural counties that aren’t majority-Black, but the existing format of the report makes answering that question a major challenge. EdNC is working to get the data in a format that better lends itself to large-scale analysis for future projects, which may include finding a more definitive answer to this question (and others).
If you want to explore the report for yourself, check out our EdExplainer on the topic.