Five things we learned about Missouri’s child care crisis

By: and - April 26, 2023 5:50 am

Sixteen-month-old Finn Marmaud leaves daycare with his mother, Kayla, on April 24, 2023, in St. Joseph (Erin Woodiel/Missouri Independent).

A collaboration between The Missouri Independent and MuckRock

MuckRock and The Missouri Independent analyzed the supply and demand of Missouri child care programs since 2019, drawing from public records and data provided by the advocacy group Child Care Aware. 

Reporters sought to find what areas of the state have the least child care availability, how availability changed during the pandemic and whether several grants of pandemic funding are going to the areas that need it most. 

You can explore the data and methodology reporters used and read the full investigation.

Here’s what we learned in five takeaways. 

Nearly half the state’s children aged 5 and under live in child care deserts 

  • A child care desert is often defined as an area where there are more than three children for every licensed child care slot or, in some cases, no licensed slots at all. In Missouri, almost half of all children aged 5 and under live in child care deserts — about 202,000 kids. 


The pandemic hit the child care industry hard, but the industry was in crisis before COVID-19

  • From fall 2019 to fall 2020, the total number of active child care programs in Missouri dropped by 24%. That left about 80,600 more children in child care deserts than the year before. Since 2020, the number of programs in Missouri has largely recovered to pre-pandemic levels. But experts say that this recovery isn’t a cause for celebration because the industry continues to suffer from the serious problems with accessibility, quality and cost that existed before COVID-19. 


Infant care can be the hardest type of child care to find, according to experts and providers, and pandemic aid may not do much to even that out 

  • A MuckRock and The Missouri Independent analysis of state grant applications to start up or expand child care facilities revealed that providers are projected to add much fewer slots for infants and toddlers than for preschool-aged children. Applicants estimated they’d add about 4,070 slots for infant care compared to about 9,460 new slots for preschoolers.


More government money is flowing to Missouri neighborhoods that aren’t child care deserts

  • Less than one-fourth of pandemic funding for child care — about $25.8 million of the $114 million that MuckRock and The Missouri Independent has tracked — is going to ZIP codes in child care deserts. This includes several grants through two federal COVID-19 relief programs: the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan (ARPA) and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 (CRRSA). 


Government funding to child care has been a massive infusion to the industry and Missouri still has more to spend 

  • The $114 million in funding that MuckRock and The Missouri Independent has tracked is just a slice of the $230 million being used to help prop up Missouri’s child care industry. Some grants haven’t been rolled out yet, some grants are still accepting applications and not all the money has been dispersed.

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Dillon Bergin
Dillon Bergin

Dillon Bergin is MuckRock's data reporter. He uses data and public records to power investigative reporting. Dillon was a member of the Documenting COVID-19 team, a project funded by MuckRock and the Brown Institute for Media Innovation. Before that, he was a Report for America corps member with Searchlight New Mexico and a Fulbright Germany Journalism Fellow.

Clara Bates
Clara Bates

Clara Bates covers social services and poverty. She previously wrote for the Nevada Current, where she reported on labor violations in casinos, hurdles facing applicants for unemployment benefits and lax oversight of the funeral industry. She also wrote about vocational education for Democracy Journal. Bates is a graduate of Harvard College and a member of the Report for America Corps.