Large areas of Door County are considered “child care deserts” based on an analysis by the University of Wisconsin. But according to a United Way coordinator, the analysis doesn’t show the extent of the county’s child care needs.

The analysis, which was published in an interactive story map, assessed whether the capacity at 4,500 Wisconsin child care locations was exceeded by the needs of the families in the area. The analysis looked at child care facilities in relation to the distribution of families with children under 5 years old in a 20-mile radius.

Published in December 2020, the analysis was shared this summer by United Way of Door County. The local United Way chapter has made child care a focus over the past year—including through a series of town hall discussions—and identified issues including limited child care options and affordability challenges.

The analysis was conducted by the UW-Madison Applied Population Lab in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. It was funded through a $30 million, three-year federal grant awarded to the state to study child care needs.

The map highlights possible child care deserts, or areas where there are not enough spots at child care facilities compared to the number of children under five years old in any given area. It identifies the areas between Sturgeon Bay and Northern Door, as well as areas north of Sister Bay, as being child care deserts.

But the data used in the analysis doesn’t show the county’s entire need, said Christina Studebaker, a United Way community impact coordinator.

“If anything, that map gives more of a positive view of Door County than what was the case,” Studebaker said.

The analysis used data that standardizes information, and for the most part, that is good, Studebaker said. However, when it comes to a place like Door County, the unusual things about living on a peninsula can make the data less accurate for the individual community. The analysis is not a perfect source of information, Studebaker said.

One issue specific to Door County was that the analysis included not just child care centers that are open from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm, but also after school programs and summer camps. These programs, while important, do not serve the community in the same way and inflate the number of child care centers in the county, Studebaker said.

“You still have to understand the idiosyncrasies of your community both in terms of geography, workforce, industries which impact things like start times and stop times of shifts, the seasonality or whether you don’t have seasonal trends in employment,” Studebaker said. “You have to really take into account all of those things in addressing your child care needs.”

The analysis is useful in that it draws attention to child care needs, Studebaker said.

 “This is helpful for people who aren’t connected to the local conversations,” Studebaker said. “It still alerts them that there are some issues for child care in Door County and there are things that need to be attended to.” 

There has been significant funding for child care programs in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is up to community-led efforts to implement the funds in the correct way for the Door County community, Studebaker said.

“If you don’t know that community’s story, you don’t understand the ties and the levers, and if you change something over here, it’s not just contained in this little box, making that change has this domino effect on other parts of the system,” she said.