Smart Beginnings NRV is a coalition of business, nonprofit and governmental leaders in the New River Valley working for wise public investments in the infrastructure for early childhood development. In December, its Executive Director, David Moore, came to one of our Hack Nights to tell us about the organization and some of their problems that we might be able to help with. The conversation was long and lively. Our group honed in on a number of challenges that Smart Beginnings was dealing with and got to work right away.
The low hanging fruit was getting access to child day care center data tied up in a state website. The site was designed to provide public access to inspection reports for individual child day care centers in Virginia, but behind the interface was a list of every center in the state. David provided a number of use cases for that dataset, so we scraped it off the website and into a PostgreSQL database.
Today, we are releasing the first app powered by our database. It’s an interactive heat map showing the child care capacity of every county in the state. The Wharton School has dubbed child care “the economy’s ‘invisible’ driver” and Smart Beginnings NRV points to the number of available child care centers in Virginia’s hottest economic regions when it advocates for additional centers in the NRV. While the organization has had the sense that our region is behind in day care availability, our heat map gives them a tool to provide decision makers with hard evidence to support that argument. Our heat map combines a county’s total child care capacity with its population estimate from the Weldon Cooper Center at the University of Virginia. The resulting visualization shades each county based on its child care capacity per 1,000 people where a darker shade indicates a higher capacity.
Earlier this week, David Moore used the map in a presentation to the Alliance for Better Child Care Strategies (ABCs), a coalition of local leaders seeking to strengthen Montgomery County’s early care and education infrastructure to attract and retain talented people with young children. David told us that it was “the single most important thing for this group to see Montgomery County in relation to our peers”. He continued, “For a long time people have known we have a real shortage of child care here in our area, but the maps and data produced by Code for the NRV really brought home just how far behind our peer communities we really are. You aren’t going to be competitive attracting the kind of talent we need to fuel our growing entrepreneurial high-tech economy if you have only a fraction of the child care infrastructure available in other similar communities.”
While this is only a minimum viable product (MVP), we are elated that our work has already been used in such an impactful way. Congratulations to Kevin Hill, Andrew Sommerlot, Lauren Rose, and Neal Feierabend for their terrific work on this project.