Note: This project has not yet been planned out so it is likely that the direction of this project may change as the needs and constraints become better understood.
Step 1: We need to learn more about the data.
The VT Department for Children & Families (DCF) licenses all child care faclities that take care of children for more than one family so they certainly have basic information on the currently active facilities. Child care, preschool, and afterschool centers have the option to participate in an objective rating system run through DCF called STARS. DCF also provides public child care planning assitance through 12 support agencies spread across the state. All of this data is both current and rigerous.
Other sites on the web have less complete data, but arguably it is more user friendly. Care.com provides average hourly costs for different child care options, individual reviews, listings of less formal services (such as "Mother's Helpers") and so forth. However, this data is incomplete and unlikely to be freely accessible (though it may be obtainable through scrapers or associate programs with some sites).
Not much of this data appears to be openly available in a useful manner. I did find one data set from 2014 available on data.vermont.gov though, so it might be possible to work with the state to improve this data source.
Step 2: Learn what is needed
Anecdotal stories of the difficulties of researching child care seem to indicate that a better system could be created - if the necessary data is openly accessible. It seems likely that a consumer-focused digital tool could make it much easier for famlies to find child care, however in order to make sure that useful tools are produced they need to be informed and directed from domain experts.
In the long term, it seems like child care research is something that would benefit from an online tool where parents could provide preferences, search current options, save their favorites and compare facilities side-by-side. However, a tool like this would need good access to current data, and require a lot of user experience research and planning informed by both parents and professionals.
In the short term, the most promising path forward is likley to be creating a simple, functional prototype to attract cooperation and information from additional stakeholders. In software, success is best achived by extending existing, functional tools as a better understanding of peoples needs evolves.
Currently this project has returned to the "Proposal" stage. In 2014 at the Hack the Stacks event, some interest & effort was put against this topic resulting in a simple prototype map of child care faclities in the town of Burlington. However it was more of an exploration in digesting and mapping data, than a tool for making child care research easier.
If you have questions or interest in this potential project please join the discussion in the #project-chatter Slack channel or email email@example.com.