A better childcare referral service

The United Way 2-1-1 UI over a map

Social enterprise

  • Non-profit fundraising
  • Charity
  • Ruby on Rails
  • Backbone
  • Marionette

50K

Number of parents using 2-1-1 Childcare

60%

Increase in site visitors

The United Way of Connecticut’s (UWCT) primary goal for the 2-1-1 Childcare search engine was to better serve their constituents.

The free referral service started as a toll-free phone assistance line connecting residents with information and services for state licensed childcare centers and family childcare homes as well as nanny agencies, nursery schools, playgroups and summer camp programs.

Problem

As use of the service grew, the UWCT found that their telephone and existing web referral service was not meeting the community’s demands. The phone service often met its incoming call capacity, causing long wait times. The existing web app didn’t have the ability to search based on a set of specific criteria such as a child’s needs or a center’s accreditation. The UWCT had this data available, but weren’t able to effectively leverage it given the current constraints of the app.

Assessment

When we sat down with the UWCT, it was clear they needed a product capable of delivering a wealth of information on an easy-to-use interface that could be accessed from any device. The existing app displayed services in a list, with little organization or advanced filtration options. The user couldn't come to the app with a list of needs and easily find childcare providers who fit the bill.

Adding advanced filters would allow us to tailor search results to display the user’s exact needs, reducing undirected searches by increasing the amount of relevant childcare options displayed. Additionally, because childcare location weighed heavily in the minds of the parents, we decided a map was the ideal interface between parent and provider. This visual change would be essential in opening up new ways for a parent or guardian to search.

With an agreed upon project scope in hand, our team of developers got to work immediately, using Ruby on Rails and Backbone/Marionette to deliver quick iterations.

An illustration of a home in the evening

Progress

The primary objective of a reference tool, like 2-1-1, is to provide accurate and relevant information. To ensure that the UWCT’s community data stayed up-to-date long into the future, the application needed to ingest new data periodically. That data then needed to be indexed intelligently such that it could be manipulated for various end uses on the front-end.

By building a custom data importer we were able continually consume and transform the UWCT’s community data with ease. We broke the work down into tiny chunks so that at every point in the process we had a working app we could iterate upon. Based on the information we were pulling in, we were able to assess which filters were necessary to expose on the front-end and which were not really a priority for parents.

Making data-driven decisions to build the front-end ensured that the end user’s needs were always at the forefront of the decision making process.

The United Way 2-1-1 desktop app on a MacBook

Solution

The resulting 2-1-1 Childcare app is accessible, streamlined, and inviting. With the advanced filtering options in place, parents are able to search the nearly 4,000 registered childcare providers within the state of Connecticut based on the criteria most important to them. Users can locate each provider on a map, learn about their experience and credentials, and ensure the provider will be able to care for their children.

Whether the user is looking for an early childhood education center with NAEYC accreditation, instructors certified to care for a child with special needs, or a center with early drop-off hours, the advanced filters make finding this information easy. Relevant results are presented on an interactive map and the street view functionality even allows users to to see the area surrounding the childcare center of interest.

Results

With the success of the 2-1-1 Childcare app, the UWCT was able to extend the project, building a similar landing page and search engine to include the entire 2-1-1 database. Using the app to help online users more easily find specific services, such as healthcare, housing, and food pantry locations, the UWCT is able to more efficiently provide the constituents of Connecticut with the vital information they need to live happy and healthy lives.

Leo Pellerin, CIO of the United Way of Connecticut, on building 2-1-1 with MojoTech.

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