New Jersey Explorer Tool Tracks Child Care Access & Safety
They say raising a child takes a village. At least that was the case in New Jersey as the Office of Information Technology led a collaborative project to bring enhanced resources, powered by data, to citizens regarding statewide child care services.
Child care centers in New Jersey are defined as establishments that provide care for six or more children below 13 years of age who attend less than 24 hours a day. Child care centers are required by New Jersey law to be licensed.
Licensed Child Care Data for Everyone
The Licensed Child Care Explorer is an application available through New Jersey’s Open Data Center and the Office of Licensing of the Department of Children and Families. It allows citizens to search and compare available child care centers based on capacity and location, and also view all inspection/violation reports. Since the project required analysis of mass amounts of data, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) worked together with the Office of Information Technology (OIT) and Socrata to develop a streamlined application that can easily be updated. The state adds new data on a monthly basis.
Poonam Soans, Open Data Program Manager with the New Jersey Office of Information Technology, is leading the project and explains that one of the goals was to develop a resource that the DCF could manage and operate independently for highest efficiency. “We have a great team that maintains the data. We essentially showed them how to upload the data and they are the ones that publish it,” she says.
“Our goal is to publish all data, not just financial data, that the public may be interested in.” — Poonam Soans, Open Data Program Manager, New Jersey Office of Information Technology
Effectively Using Government Data to Serve the Public
While the Child Care Explorer fills an immediate need for parents, families, and community members concerned about child safety in their area, it also fits into a larger goal of effectively using government data to serve the public. “In 2010, Governor Christie wanted us to be more transparent with data related to taxpayer dollars. Now our goal is to publish all data, not just financial data, that the public may be interested in,” Soans says.
Since launching the application in late 2014, the Office of Information Technology has received positive feedback from the DCF on how much easier it is to relay and update information for local citizens. “When they came to us, they were limited to static spreadsheets that they were displaying on their site,” explains Soans. “Using the cloud computing solution we have the ability to provide the public with formal and consistent access to the data that can be easily retrieved, downloaded, sorted, searched, analyzed, redistributed, and reused by individuals.”
“Using the cloud computing solution we have the ability to provide the public with formal and consistent access to the data that can be easily retrieved, downloaded, sorted, searched, analyzed, redistributed, and reused by individuals.” — Poonam Soans, Open Data Program Manager, New Jersey Office of Information Technology
While it’s clear that the project was successful in improving Child Care Service Transparency, Soans hopes that it also serves as a model for other agencies to find new ways to use government data to deliver better services. “Once we show this to other agencies, we’re hoping they will approach us across other areas of interest,” she says.