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California’s Online Parent Portal – A Case Study

Lab News

Client: The California Department of Education

The Early Learning Lab worked with the Santa Clara County Office of Education and other partners to conduct user research and provide recommendations on the design and development of a statewide Parent Portal to maximize parental choice and knowledge of options for child care in California.

The Challenge

In 2018, California passed a bill (AB 2960) to ensure that families have access to timely, accurate information about high-quality Early Learning and Care (ELC) programs, how to enroll their children, and benefits they may be eligible for via an eligibility screener and the development of a public online portal – referred to as the “Parent Portal” – which must be created by June 30, 2022.

The Early Learning Lab was brought on board to provide design recommendations for the portal that would ensure it meets the needs and desires of the parents, providers, and stakeholders who will use the site.

Our Approach

The Early Learning Lab convened and worked with the Parent Portal Stakeholder Workgroup, which consisted of representatives from the early care and education system in California, to develop its recommendations for the Parent Portal.

In addition to working with the Parent Portal Stakeholder Workgroup, the Early Learning Lab: 

Reviewed and synthesized existing user research from the California Child Care Resource & Referral Network (CCCR&RN) and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, who conducted user research in San Mateo County with parents to better understand their pain points and opportunities when looking for child care, as well as child care providers – the two main end-users of the Parent Portal.

Conducted original user research, including facilitating a design session with members of the Preschool Development Grant (PDG) Parent Group, to better understand how to better meet the needs of low-income parents looking for child care. 

Researched parent portals and eligibility screeners from other states in an effort to understand best practices for both types of online services. 

Researched private child care finding web services to identify features they offer and understand processes they use to maintain their data services.

“Our collaboration enabled us to develop recommendations truly grounded in the needs of California families. The Early Learning Lab team’s responsiveness to our project needs helped to create a clear path toward a high-quality platform that will transform how families can find care for their children.”

The Results

Through this project, the Early Learning Lab delivered a set of near-term and longer-term recommendations to develop the Parent Portal as a robust platform that supports all of the stakeholders across the early learning and care sector in California. These include specific recommendations on:

  1. Integrating subsidized child care related services into existing eligibility screeners offered by the State of California
  2. Increasing transparency and addressing the complexity of the waitlist process for subsidized child care slots
  3. Additional data on child care programs that families would find useful when evaluating programs
  4. A roadmap and plan for ongoing platform improvements and enhancements for the Parent Portal to ensure it meets the evolving needs of stakeholders
  5. A communications strategy to increase awareness of the Parent Portal among various stakeholders

“Our collaboration enabled us to develop recommendations truly grounded in the needs of California families,” said Erika Mathur, manager of ECIDS Early Learning Data Governance at the Office of the Superintendent, Santa Clara County Office of Education. “The Early Learning Lab team’s responsiveness to our project needs helped to create a clear path toward a high-quality platform that will transform how families can find care for their children.”

View the Parent Portal Summary Report to see our recommendations for the design of the Parent Portal that will help ensure every family has access to current and robust information on California’s vast array of early childhood services.