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Mel Gravely

Webinar Recap: How Race, Ethnicity, and Location Influence Children’s Access to Early Childhood Education (Part 2)

This is Part Two in our series about the webinar “Race and Place Matter: Head Start and CCDBG Access by Race, Ethnicity and Location.” In Part One, we examined the first of three studies explored in the webinar. That study, by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), found that low-income children’s access to early childhood development opportunities varies by race, ethnicity, and state.

In Part Two of our series, we’ll explore a study by, which finds that Head Start needs and impact vary greatly at the micro-level of individual neighborhoods.

“Disparities in Neighborhood Access to Head Start: Exploring Neighborhood Availability of Head Start by Race, Ethnicity, and Nativity” – a study by

The study conducted by concludes that Head Start centers must increase their presence in neighborhoods that display a higher demographic need for eligible services. In doing so, Head Start programs will reach and impact their target income-eligible populations more successfully.

Led by Dr. Dolores Acevedo-Garcia, Director of and of the Institute for Child, Youth, and Family Policy at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management (HSSPM) at Brandeis University, the study, titled “Disparities in Neighborhood Access to Head Start: Exploring Neighborhood Availability of Head Start by Race, Ethnicity, and Nativity” utilizes 2010 census data collected by is a state-of the art indicator database created at HSSPM to collect and track child wellbeing and opportunity data by race and ethnicity across multiple sectors like education, geography, and neighborhoods.

Dr. Acevedo-Garcia firmly believes that neighborhood demographics influence Head Start participation and ultimately impacts child development opportunities. The study seeks to explore the disparity in Head Start participation among eligible children by asking, “What does neighborhood-level access to Head Start look like for eligible children?”

First, the author begins her discussion by citing a 2009 landmark study by Neidell and Waldfogel which concluded that a) neighborhood availability of Head Start programs is directly correlated to participation rates among eligible children; and b) immigrant children who live in immigrant-heavy neighborhoods with immediately accessible Head Start rely greatly on these services given these children’s higher need for support and their low level of access to private transportation.

The study explores three variables:
1. Where are eligible children located?
2. What does neighborhood availability look like by race, ethnicity, and nativity?
3. Where are Head Start centers located?

Where are eligible children located?
According to, most poor children under age 5 in the United States live in the 100 largest metropolitan areas. 67 percent of eligible Black children live in metropolitan areas; 73 percent of eligible Hispanic children live in metropolitan areas; and 83 percent of eligible Asian/Pacific Islander children live in metropolitan areas. Only 43 percent of eligible White children live in metropolitan areas. This suggests a sharp racial disparity in the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the United States. Furthermore, Dr. Acevedo-Garcia asserts that the concept of residential segregation – which in the past has mistakenly been attributed to income disparity- is very much at play when race, ethnicity, and nativity are considered.

What does neighborhood availability look like by race, ethnicity, and nativity?
A comparison by race of poor children under age 5 – where poor is defined as someone who lives 100% below the poverty line – shows that 31 percent of Black children and 28 percent of Hispanic children live in high poverty neighborhoods, compared to 21 percent of Asian children and 18 percent of White children.

In addition, Hispanic children tend to live in neighborhoods with a higher concentration of households. For example, on average, Hispanic children live in neighborhoods where 45 percent households have children, compared to 39 percent among Black children, and 40 percent among Asian children. This means that Hispanic children may be living in neighborhoods that display a higher demand for early childhood education services.

When considering nativity – defined as having at least one parent who is foreign-born – 29 percent of Hispanic children are from foreign-born families, compared to 32 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander children. Previous research has shown that immigrant communities display a higher use of services when these are immediately available in their neighborhood. Thus, Dr. Acevedo-Garcia believes the data shows that poor children of different ethnicities tend to live in sharply segregated neighborhoods with higher concentrations of poverty, children, and immigrants, and highlights a higher propensity for poverty and demand for services in some neighborhoods. This is especially true among Hispanic children.

Where are Head Start Centers located?
Of eligible children who live in a neighborhood with a Head Start Center nearby, 31 percent of children were Black; 31 percent were Hispanic; 28 percent were White; and 22 percent were Asian.

However, when viewed through the lens of eligible children PER Head Start center in each neighborhood, the results were rather unsettling:
* The average Black child lives in an area with 72 other eligible Black children
* The average Hispanic child lives in an area with 83 other eligible Hispanic children
* The average White child lives in an area with 53 other eligible White children

Given that an average Head Start center serves between 30-50 children, a comparison between the number of Hispanic vs. White children per Head Start center suggests a difference of approximately 30 children, which results in a potential “1 center gap.”

Policy implications include closely monitoring location when expanding Head Start centers and expanding in places with the greatest unmet need. Furthermore, policymakers should more consistently utilize data and analyses to identify areas of need. At this time, Head Start data is only provided in aggregate, program-based figures. Dr. Acevedo-Garcia asserts that going forward, data collection should be center-based, rather than program-based, to ensure more accurate reflections of local usage and need.

Part Three of our discussion will review the final portion of the webinar, which includes relevant study data from Latino Policy Forum and Q&A from the webinar.

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