Finding quality child care is one of the most important decisions working parents of pre-k children can make. Finding the right fit comes with many questions. Many of which center around “where.” Should it be near home? Work? Or near another child’s school? To help make finding child care easier for Maryland’s working families, the Center for GIS (CGIS) at Towson University worked with the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) Office of Child Care to devise an online GIS-based solution called the Maryland Child Care Mapping Tool.

Maryland Child Care Mapping Tool

Child Care Mapping ToolThe Maryland Child Care Mapping Tool allows parents to take more control of finding a qualified, non-public pre-kindergarten and/or child-care program. The public application was created by CGIS programmers and data analysists in order to geo-enable the tabular child-care licensing data on MSDE’s website, to make it easier to visualize and use. This data is combined with MSDE’s EXCELS ratings and transportation data from MD iMap to help parents find the quality daycare where they can access it. MD iMap is Maryland’s mapping and GIS portal that allows users to use GIS-based data to track anything from agriculture to the arts. Maryland EXCELS is a program that helps to increase awareness of the importance of early childhood programs by rating qualified caregivers around the state.

Child Care Mapping Tool Update

The updated version will allow for increased usability on mobile phones and allow users to mark favorites, view transportation maps relative to location, and share via social media outlets.

This data has always been available in one form or another. In the past, parents would search the MSDE webpage, the Yellow Pages or ask friends or family members for recommendations. However, CGIS has taken this data and mapped it, placed it online, and made it readily available to today’s internet-based consumer.

A little over a year ago CGIS worked with MSDE to bring the current version of the tool online. Because it is web-based, the tool can be used on most desktop and tablet computers. Our team is now working on an updated version that will give finer details in the maps, more advanced sorting options, as well as increased usability with a smart phone view.

How To Map Child Care

The Maryland Child Care Mapping Tool is easy to use. If a user wants quick results with the widest search, the user is only required

  1. to define a location. This can be either a physical location (work, home, transportation hub) or by county and 151 public schools.
  2. and set a search radius (0.25–3 miles) from the user-defined location.

At this point the user can click “Build Map” and get many results from which to choose. If a more detailed search is wanted, the user can filter the results based on

  1. the program type (five are available)
  2. the EXCELS quality rating (one to five checkmarks), and
  3. the schedule (day, month, and time period) of care desired.

Child Care Mapping Tool

Search results are shown on the map marked by the type of program it represents. Centered within the search radius is the user’s search location shown as a school house.

Child Care Mapping Tool

Search results shown to the left of the map can be expanded to show details about the selected child care location.

Search results in the Maryland Child Care Mapping Tool display the resulting child care providers on the map, labeled by program type. Clicking on any provider opens up a brief description of the provider with license details, contact information, operating hours, and the age groups the provider is licensed to serve. Search results can then be printed out as text, with or without the display map. The results can also be shared via email and/or social media.

Success

MSDE has reported the tool has been quite successful. In fact, the Maryland Child Care Mapping Tool is often the MD iMap application with the most traffic. Site analytics have also shown the average time spent on the site was 5 minutes, which speaks to real success on a public site like this (people are really using it, not just bouncing away after 20 seconds). We are excited to put the power of GIS mapping in the hands of parents, which hopefully translates into Maryland’s children getting the quality care and education they deserve.