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Why Smart Start Matters

Greater investments in young children see greater returns in education, health and productivity.

Watch these two short videos to better understand the need for quality child care and the importance of the First 2,000 Days of life and the impact of Smart Start for young children in our community.

Change the First Five Years and You Change Everything

First Five Birthdays

Quality Child Care Facilities

Child Care Services Association searchable data link

Smart Start NHC

Most families in New Hanover County cannot afford the full cost of child care. Low-income families and families with more than one child have to pay a high percentage of their income for care. Little is left in the family’s budget for food, medical, clothing, travel or other basic living expenses. Due to the high cost of child care, parents often make difficult choices. Some may seek cheaper, often inadequate child care or leave their children unattended. (

Quick Facts

  • 10,861 children under 5 in NHC who have not yet entered kindergarten make up 4.5% of the county population. (, 2022)
  • 28% of children under five in NHC live in a family whose income is below the federal poverty level. (, 2020)
  • 67% of children in NC ages 3-4 living below 200% poverty were not enrolled in pre-k school in 2019. (, 2023)
  • 7.3% of children under 18 in NHC are without health insurance in 2020. (, 2023)
  • 31% of children ages 2-4 in NHC receiving WIC Program Services are overweight or obese. (, 2023)
  • There were 135 pregnancies to mothers in NHC ages 15-19 in 2019. (, 2023)
  • 15.3% of kindergarteners in NC have untreated tooth decay. (, 2020)

Licensed Child Care in NHC

There are two types of child care facilities: child care centers and family child care homes. All licensed facilities are given ratings, ranging from 1 to 5, by the NC Division of Child Development and Early Education to reflect their quality standards. For more information about the rating system, click here.

  • 4,376 children birth to five in NHC are enrolled in licensed child care programs. (, March 2018)
  • The percentage of children in 4 and 5 star programs in NC increased from 33% in 2001 to 71% in 2022 (Smart Start Partnership for Children, 2023).
  • NHC has 78 licensed child care programs – 56 are centers and 22 are homes (decreased from 98 total, 65 and 33 in 2018, respectively). (, February 2023)
  • 64% of the licensed centers and 23% of licensed homes in NHC have a 4 or 5 star rating. (, February 2023)
  • 70% of children under 5 in NHC are in 4 or 5 star licensed centers.  27% are in 4 or 5 star licensed homes. (, February 2023)

Economic Impact of Quality Early Childcare

  • Licensed child care centers and homes in NHC employ 857 people and enroll 7162 young children in 2023. (, February 2023)
  • 8,922 children under six in NHC live in families where their sole parent or both parents are working. The need for quality child care is critical to the economic viability of these families and businesses.  (, March 2018)
  • In January 2018, the NHC served 1,392 different children with child care subsidy and had 785 eligible children on the waiting list for subsidy. (, March 2018)

Click on the links below to learn more about why Smart Start matters.