This latest Pre-to-3 column focuses on a new resource with county-level data on young children. Past installments of Pre-to-3 can be found here.

Need to know the percentage of children in a county who are Hispanic? The percentage of children living in families below the poverty line? Or maybe the percentage of women in the workforce with children under 6?

Those are among the questions the new Early Childhood Data Dashboard — what the developers are calling a “data playground” — can answer for every county in the nation. 

Created by the Sorenson Impact Centerpart of the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah, the site aims to be an online hub of community-level information on young children from birth until kindergarten. And it can serve as a resource for principals and district leaders who want to know more about the children entering their schools. 

“As a society we struggle to objectively measure the well-being of children, especially those under 5,” Kendall Rathunde, a senior associate at the center, wrote in a recent article. “There are few reliable measures of childhood development that community leaders and policymakers can rely on to help them understand a child’s trajectory between birth and starting school.”

The dashboard’s overarching question.

Sorenson Impact Center

 

Additional indicators include the race and ethnicity of children in poverty, the percentage of households with children receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and the educational levels of new mothers.

“I love the focus on [early childhood],” said Cynthia Osborne, who directs the Center and Family Research Partnership and the Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The dashboard, she said, is similar to the long-running Kids Count project and County Health Ratings and Rankings.

Such data, Rathunde wrote, will be increasingly important as educators and program providers work to understand how COVID-19 has affected families with young children. 

“As society braces for the long-term impacts of the pandemic, policymakers must prepare themselves to understand how family instability rocks the well-being of children under age 5,” she wrote. 

In an interview, she noted after working with communities and “learning about the challenges they experience” accessing and using data, the center created the tool to “streamline that service.” 

In California, for example, First 5 Ventura County uses data from the health and education sectors, as well as parent surveys and data on families’ socioeconomic status, to make decisions about funding programs and service providers. F5VC is one of 58 county-level commissions focusing on early childhood development.

According to Elizabeth Majestic, the director of Neighborhoods for Learning at F5VC, the agency considers geographic location as well as race and ethnicity when planning initiatives because they “shape a child’s risk of living in concentrated poverty.”

“Infants and toddlers living in areas of concentrated poverty are more likely to miss out on safe and healthy opportunities to learn, play and grow,” said Majestic, who is also a Pritzker Fellow, one of a cohort of 13 early-childhood leaders working in communities funded by the Pritzker Children’s Initiative. The Sorenson Impact Center manages the work of the cohort.

An example of the data available at the county level.

Sorenson Impact Center

 

And in Washington, First 5 Fundamentals, a Pierce County nonprofit, reviewed public health equity and child welfare data when it began a local pilot of Help Me Grow, a national effort to connect community-level resources serving families with young children. Leaders, including Pritzer Fellow Kate Ginn, wanted to determine which ZIP codes had the highest needs, and in an annual report, they continue to show how demographics and child outcomes vary across those communities. Data from the county’s 211 system has also been helpful in determining where to set up diaper banks during the pandemic. 

The center’s new dashboard primarily pulls together data from government sources, such as the U.S. Census Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The one exception is a report from the Center for American Progress, which used a National Association for the Education of Young Children survey — not nationally representative — to predict how many licensed child care slots “could be lost” because of having to close their doors during the pandemic. 

Gwendolyn Reynolds, the director of data science at the Sorenson Impact Center, said the team plans to replace that indicator with “better administrative data” in the future. 

In fact, a report released Thursday by the Data Quality Campaign and Foresight Law + Policy suggested that the pandemic has highlighted the need for more accurate data on early-childhood programs.

“Different states had different policies in these areas, but every community was forced to confront the fact that it didn’t know what services were still available and how many families needed them,” wrote Elliot Regenstein, a partner at Foresight Law + Policy, “One leading expert on child care policy identified real-time supply and demand data as one of the most critical needs of the child care system.”

Rathunde added it’s too soon to see some of the “emerging impacts” of the pandemic in public data sources. But child care, she said, is “a good indicator for the current crisis” because it “has implications for parental employment, workplace productivity, healthy development and family support in general.” 

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