Connecting San Francisco Families to Quality, Affordable Child Care
14 October 2018
Children’s Council San Francisco believes that all families should have access to affordable, quality child care. They help families, particularly low-income families, understand and pay for care that meets their individual needs. To do so, Children’s Council contacts each child care provider in San Francisco and builds detailed profiles on every aspect of their care. They ask providers questions like:
Children’s Council is also a resource for child care providers in San Francisco. They offer support for those wanting to obtain a child care license, needing technical assistance and consulting, and professional development. Their efforts are raising the standard of care for families in the area.
Additionally, Children’s Council is a subsidy administrator. They help low-income families qualify, apply, and use child care subsidies. Through analyzing the data they collect, Children’s Council is able to determine if families are eligible for subsidies, and if providers should receive them.
Children’s Council maintains a lot of data. Aside from keeping records of all the families in their system, they extensively track each registered child care provider on file in San Francisco. For example, child care subsidies account for millions of dollars, and have to be tracked meticulously. Because they have multiple systems recording information (one for subsidies, one for referrals, one for vacancy information, and another for payments) they are often tangled in duplicative data on families and providers when entered into the system. Duplicative, inaccurate, or hard to find data poses a roadblock for counselors trying to refer their clients to care.
Our first collaboration with Children’s Council, in 2015, was a systems audit. We charted the digital topography of their system from a technical and user perspective – observing pain points and trouble areas. Based on our analysis, we worked with Children’s Council to develop a multi-year systems roadmap with the mission to unify and modernize their current systems. We focused on ways to reduce data management and the costs to maintain technical infrastructure. Ultimately, we wanted to help Children’s Council open up their legacy systems so their data could be accessed and utilized beyond the organization.
In our second collaboration with Children’s Council, in 2016, we designed and built a “Child Care Finder” search engine where families can search for providers that meet their unique needs. To do this, we updated Children’s Council’s legacy database and designed and built a modern front end for families to access previously inaccessible data. This search engine became more than a tool for one organization; it served as a product template for other family-serving Resource and Referral (R&R) organizations.
In 2018, we supported Children’s Council in another step to modernize their systems, replacing their legacy database with the National Database System (NDS) through Child Care Aware of America. We provided Children’s Council with coaching and resources to carry out interviews with staff and families. Through their research, we were able to identify a number of ways the two-year-old Finder could be enhanced to better meet the needs of all who use it.
We began constructing “Finder 2.0” – a second version of the Child Care Finder – to address new areas of improvement. We developed a comprehensive product backlog of features to build, methodically prioritized each feature, and developed a roadmap for features that we could complete.
- Enriching provider profiles to include pictures, certifications, quality scores, and vacancy information.
- A side by side comparison of providers.
- Log in capabilities for families to save their information.
- The ability to add filters, like rates and vacancies, to a provider search.
- A geographic search function for families to find providers near their home, work, or on their commute route.
As the designs for new features matured, we began integrating the new NDS data system to Finder 2.0. Because we built the first Finder modularly, the process of replacing the legacy database with the new NDS API was straightforward. We were the first consumers of NDS’s API. As pioneers to this process, we helped NDS write their API specifications, refine the API capabilities, stress test, and debug their new system. Many R&R agencies use the NDS system, but have not built a Finder product. Because Finder 2.0 is open source, we see a lot of future potential in enhancing how other R&R agencies meet the needs of families across the country.
We have more features still to implement, including:
- Adding the ability to search for different care providers for multiple children.
- Including a link to an enrollment application, which can work across all providers.
- Allowing parents to leave testimonials of their experience on each provider’s page.
Staggering the implementation of Finder 2.0’s features is part of our agile delivery model. We prioritize the most important features first, and move forward with additional add-ons as time and budget allows. This approach enables our work to be flexible, adapting to our partner’s pace.
Finder 2.0 provides relief for San Francisco-based families, care providers, and Children’s Council staff. Families now have pertinent information at their fingertips as they navigate their search for quality, affordable child care. Children’s Council counselors are able to use this sophisticated search tool to leverage their high-level skills, matching more families with the right providers.
These impacts have the potential to travel beyond San Francisco. Children’s Council has released our collaboration as an open-source product, which will help other R&R agencies across the country to enhance their child care resources, as well.
Reliable, high quality child care empowers many families to maintain school enrollment, improve their ability to support their families, and advance economically. Additionally, early, quality care helps ensure a child’s ability to succeed later in life. As we continue to invest in the health and resilience families – particularly low-income families – we are working to create a world in which agency, equality, and early childhood development are commonplace.
“In our three years as partners, I have continued to be impressed with Exygy’s innovative, value-driven approach. We built a product that will make thousands of families’ lives easier. In the process of collaborating with Exygy we have built more than a high quality product – our team has developed skills that have grown our capacity to do meaningful work.”
– Claudia Quinonez, Children’s Council Program Manager
Co-authored by Anna Gibbons