Families across the United States face a variety of challenges securing early care and education (ECE) for their children. The supply and price of ECE programs in local areas tell part but not all the access story for families. To capture the complexity of ECE access from a family’s perspective, a recently developed definition of access to ECE addresses multiple dimensions of the ECE experience, including the effort families make to find ECE programs with available slots, the affordability of ECE, the extent to which the arrangement meets the needs of the parents, and the ways the arrangement supports children’s development.

Describing access across multiple dimensions provides decision makers with a deeper understanding of families’ ECE needs and emphasizes the need for multi-faceted policy solutions. Yet measuring and comparing access from different perspectives requires available data and a clear measurement approach that can be conveyed concisely. This report describes an exploratory study using data from the 2012 National Study of Early Care and Education (NSECE) to model the complexity of ECE access and to consider how ECE access varies for families across the United States.