The Best and Worst San Francisco Neighborhoods for Childcare

Perhaps you’ve heard horror stories from other parents, stories about getting on preschool wait lists before babies are born.  We heard these stories a year ago when we were in the early stages of exploring the idea that would become NurtureList.  The high level data for San Francisco county supported these stories: In 2012, there were approximately 46,144 children age 5 and under living in the city, but only 20,196 total licensed daycare and preschool spots (less than 50% of potential childcare demand).

In the past year, while working with both schools and parents, we learned that the reality was very different by neighborhood.  On the one hand, data inputted by schools on our platform showed that there were often many immediate openings available, but often at schools far away from the Eastern and Central corridors of the city, in neighborhoods such as The Richmond, Outer Sunset, Lakeshore, and Outer Mission.

On the other hand, we received a large number of concierge requests from parents located in areas such as the Mission, Noe Valley, Bernal Heights, and Potrero Hill.  In these areas, there were rarely immediate openings, and we often advised parents to get a head start in touring schools and joining waitlists.

We realized that there wasn’t just a childcare supply and demand imbalance across the city, but importantly between neighborhoods.  We decided to look at data to see if it supported what we were experiencing with our users.  It took a bit of digging, but in the end we were able to create an interactive heat map of the city’s neighborhoods (read more about the data below).

SF childcare supply and demand
Our heat map allows users to view each neighborhood’s childcare supply and demand statistics.

The full dataset:


Our 7 takeaways for the data:

1. Nearly all San Francisco neighborhood have a shortage of licensed childcare facilities.  The  exceptions are Financial District, SOMA and the Presidio (dark green areas on map), where there are large employer-sponsored childcare centers.  However, waiting lists are long (up to one year at Bright Horizons and Marin Day School locations for infants), since these centers also serve families that commute from other areas.  Moreover, most of these are employer-sponsored centers where unaffiliated families can expect even longer wait lists.

2. Areas where housing prices remain modest relative to the rest of the city have the highest childcare capacity (yellow and light green areas on map) .  These neighborhoods are the best bet for finding modestly priced daycare/preschool.  For full-time childcare, rates range between $1,000 to $1,500 per month.

3. Neighborhoods in the south central as well as northern parts of the city have the lowest childcare capacity (orange and red areas of map).  While these areas are convenient for commuting and other amenities, they tend to be tough for childcare.  For full-time care, rates range between $1,500 to $2,500 per month.

4.  Parents looking for infant daycare (under 2 years old) face the greatest challenge.  We estimate that there is only 1 infant daycare slot in San Francisco for every 5.5 infants.  In our experience, nearly all parents looking for infant care need it full time, so each slot can only accommodate one child.

5. Supply and demand are more balanced (relative to infants) for preschoolers (years 2 through 5).  Some parents looking for preschool are open to part-time programs, and one slot can be split between two or more children (for example in a morning program and in an afternoon program).

6. Despite the overall shortage, we still find unfilled openings in some neighborhoods, likely because of the high cost of childcare and other inefficiencies due to geography and timing.

7. Our heat map does not address parents’ income levels.  For example, in the Western Addition neighborhood, there are several childcare facilities, but nearly all are subsidized programs that middle class and above families do not quality for.

In the next several weeks, we plan to dive into the dynamics of childcare in San Francisco and cover topics ranging from the price that parents pay to the economics for providers.  We’ll also offer strategies for parents to help secure a spot.

About the data
To get the number of children by neighborhood, we used data from the San Francisco Planning Department.  We assumed a uniform distribution in age between years 0 through 5 to get the infant and preschool populations.  We used Community Care Licensing (CCL) data to get providers and slots by neighborhood (with a bit of help from Google). Since not all home-based providers can be found through CCL, we use NurtureList’s database to supplement the provider information.  We also use our database to estimate the number of infant slots vs. other ages for home-based providers.


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