MSU researcher Dr. Jamie Wu receives Michigan Department of Education grant for Childcare Services Mapping Project

By Katie Nicpon

Dr Jamie Wu

Jamie Heng-Chieh Wu, PhD., received a $200,000 Michigan Department of Education grant over 18 months for the Childcare Services Mapping Project. Funding for the grant comes from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. The goal is to develop new data infrastructure that policymakers and program leaders can use to help ensure that families across the state of Michigan have equitable access to high-quality childcare services. Dr. Wu is a research assistant professor in the MSU Department of Human Development and Family Studies and associate director for Community Evaluation Programs in the MSU Office of University Outreach and Engagement. 

“Ultimately the goal is to improve equitable access to high-quality, affordable childcare services for all children and families.” she said. “Abundant research has documented that high-quality preschool and out-of-school time programming can help children from disadvantaged backgrounds narrow the opportunity gaps between them and their more affluent peers.”

Dr. Wu and her team members have already developed a robust set of data maps for the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP), Michigan’s public preschool program for disadvantaged four-year-old children. The maps show the locations of GSRP programs in addition to equity-focused data. For example, the data show participation in GSRP programs by race/ethnicity and the Child Opportunity Index scores of neighborhoods where GSRP classrooms are located.

Michigan families already have access to a program finder through Great Start to Quality. The new childcare-related services map, intended for policymakers and program leaders, will include  GSRP, Head Start and all licensed programs for children age 12 and under. The programs range from home- and center-based childcare programs for young children to the wide variety of programs for school-aged children: school-based and community-based before- and after school programs, weekend programs, and summer camps, among others. 

The MSU team’s  research will show more than just where childcare sites are located. The team intends to show basic operations factors such as agency types, funding, subsidies, operation hours, capacity, and age groups served. Dr. Wu and her team are exploring additional analyses, such as a comparison of a zip code’s or a census tract’s income levels with the costs of childcare programming. They hope to identify “service deserts'' and analyze the barriers to more robust program offerings. 

“We are looking for areas that can have a meaningful impact on childcare policy and planning,” Dr. Wu said. 

Dr. Wu hopes that this project will also impact states beyond Michigan with data-driven decision-making in childcare policy and programming. 

“We have developed, and will refine and improve for this project, a data infrastructure that enables policy and program decision-makers to visualize complex data at a glance,” she said.

The project will bring in data from child care licensing and other sources, such as the Child Opportunity Index and the American Community Survey, to examine the provision and quality of childcare services in neighborhood contexts. This project can be a model to show other states how to use their own data and integrate it with other data sources to make policy and programming decisions, with particular emphasis on promoting equity.

“My team and I are deeply committed to equity in education and childcare services,” Dr. Wu said. “Families from low-income, immigrant, and racial/ethnic minority backgrounds deserve the same level and quality of services as more affluent families—and arguably have greater need. I feel privileged to work for the public good by leading a project that has the potential to improve the lives of millions of children and families.”