The Foundation is committed to using data and direct community engagement to inform our philanthropic decision making. When we started this work it was clear that we needed a much deeper understanding of community well-being, the current supply and demand for early childhood education services, and the challenges facing working parents and those working in the field of early education.
In 2017 we partnered with the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire on a series of white papers to better understand how families and their children fare in general, and specifically within the early childhood education and care landscape in the Upper Valley.
Like most rural regions, the population of the Upper Valley is characterized by a relative high median age and outmigration of young people. Similar to its component states of New Hampshire and Vermont, residents in the region do well across indicators of social, economic, health, and educational outcomes.
These aggregate data, however, mask pockets of poverty, trauma, and significant community need. It also fails to give us a real sense of how the peculiarities of geography and public policy affect how families access critical services to support healthy childhood development and family well-being.
Children, Working Parents, and the Availability and Affordability of Care
Based on 2015 census numbers, there are about 9,700 children under age five currently living in the Upper Valley. An additional 11,000 children are aged five to nine—the critical period when young children transition from preschool to the early elementary grades.
While current measures of poverty have their limitations, and often undercount families affected by poverty, nearly 40 percent of children in the Upper Valley live in households classified as either poor (15 percent) or low income (22 percent). As in other geographic areas, poverty disproportionately affects children.
While there are over 200 licensed early education providers in the Upper Valley serving children from a few months old to age six, there is a significant gap in access given the number of children who could benefit from high-quality early education services.
Nearly 75 percent of working parents surveyed as part of the Carsey School study experienced a waitlist to find care for their youngest children. Parents often do not get their first choice of programming, and nearly one-third of parents must rely on some form of unlicensed care (friend, family, or neighbor) to remain in the workforce. Due to the lack of licensed slots for infants and toddlers in the Upper Valley, more than 36 percent of parents reported using unlicensed care exclusively for their youngest children.
Parents working non-standard hours, whether they are working in manufacturing or health care, have even fewer options for their children.
When parents can find available slots for their young children, the cost of care is often prohibitive. The average cost of full-time, full-year early education services for a child under two in the Upper Valley is more than $10,000. Families that have a median household income ($64,500 per year) will spend nearly twice what the federal government considers affordable. These costs are magnified for lower income families and for families with more than one child.
Even parents working in the region's largest companies struggle to find and afford quality early education and care services for their children. When asked to describe the affordability of child care for their families, more than 50 percent reported that these services were not affordable.
For a deeper dive into the data, please read the following white papers and policy briefs:
Understanding Early Childhood Education Needs and Opportunities in the Upper Valley
Understanding Early Childhood Education Needs and Opportunities in the Upper Valley – Phase II: Needs and Experiences of Upper Valley Workers
Carson, J. (2018). Working families’ access to early childhood education: Gaps in the Upper Valley of New Hampshire and Vermont. University of New Hampshire, Carsey School of Public Policy
Banner courtesy of Vital Communities. Photo credit Molly Drummond