Child care is expensive and hard to come by for everyone. Local and statewide business leaders, advocates, philanthropists, and policymakers are asking how to solve that problem across the state.

But young children and families in certain communities and parts of the state are particularly lacking in early childhood access and opportunity, says a new report from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG).

“We really have to prioritize those who we have already systematically been put in a position of economic precarity,” said Iheoma Iruka, FPG fellow and founding director of the Equity Research Action Coalition at the institute.

“There is a consistent pattern in which certain communities — particularly those that have low Child Opportunity Index (COI) scores, especially in the northeast part of the state — are less likely to have high-quality programs,” says the report, “Start with Equity: NC Early Childhood Education Equity Analyses Project.”

The COI measures neighborhood factors that matter for healthy child development, such as quality schools, clean air, access to health care, and safe housing.

As the state’s early childhood programs teeter on the funding cliff projected for the end of June, Iruka said specific attention is needed in places where young children and families have lower COI scores.

“The cliff itself is going to impact them the most because they have less wealth, they have less resources, and they are the most vulnerable to any catastrophe,” she said. “The people who lose out are the people who are always on the brink of economic destitution.”

In states that have already run out of federal funds, or gone over that cliff, child care has become more expensive and less available. North Carolina advocates are particularly worried about programs’ ability to remain open and accessible as those funds end, due to an inability to pay competitive wages to teachers.

COI scores are the highest in central and urban areas, including the Triangle, Triad, and Mecklenburg County, the report found. The lowest scores are in the far east (Hyde and Bertie counties), southeast (Robeson, Scotland, and Columbus counties), and far west (Graham and Cherokee counties).

The report found that the areas with higher COI scores had clusters of high-quality licensed child care centers. There were particularly few high-quality options in the northeast part of the state.

Read the full article about early childcare access by Liz Bell at The 74.