Early Childhood Data is Not Integrated and Accessible, Survey of Data Users Finds

Early childhood stakeholders in North Carolina are collecting and using data on a wide range of early childhood issues, including health, early education, and family and community supports, but those players are not able to easily access data or share them with each other. That’s the key takeaway from a recent survey of more than 200 early childhood data users across the state.

The survey was developed to assess the types of data that are currently available and being used to track progress and measure outcomes related to early childhood health, safety, and education across North Carolina. The researchers surveyed North Carolina organizations that use data to develop early childhood programs and services.

The survey results highlight the need for an integrated data system to facilitate data sharing across the wide range of public and private programs that are collecting early childhood data.

The data user survey was funded through the federal Preschool Development Grant B-5 and was designed to support the NCDHHS Early Childhood Action Plan, which was informed by the NC Pathways to Grade-Level Reading initiative and includes measures and targets aimed at improving early childhood health, safety and education by 2025.

Access an overview of the survey, the survey report executive summary, and the full report.

Pathways Measures of Success

NCECF has encountered the same issues in our own early childhood data collection. The NC Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Measures of Success were developed to describe the range of data measures the state needs to collect and analyze to understand where NC children are on the pathway to reading on grade-level by the end of third grade. In accessing dozens of different websites and state agencies to collect the data for the 50-60 Pathways data measures, it became clear that NC does not have a central repository of early childhood data that describes children’s outcomes. In some good news, the NC Early Childhood Integrated Data System (ECIDS) collects program data from NC Pre-K, Food & Nutrition Services (SNAP), Work First and other public programs, and we understand from NCDHHS that the goal is to eventually integrate outcome data into the ECIDS system as well.

Ongoing Early Childhood Data Work 

We reported recently on the Early Childhood Data Advisory Council, which is working to develop an early childhood data development strategy. The strategy will aim to fill in the gaps where NC is not currently collecting data on measures that national research shows matter for early literacy and that were chosen as Measures of Success by the Pathways to Grade-Level Reading stakeholders. The strategy will prioritize data points that would support the early childhood strategic plans of the state’s two main child-serving state agencies — the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Public Instruction.

The next phase of the state’s data user survey work will include convening data roundtables across the state. These meetings will center on data users and focus on specific opportunities to improve the design of early childhood data systems that were identified in the survey. 

The survey was led by Dr. Paul Lanier at the Jordan Institute for Families at the UNC School of Social Work and Katherine Bryant, program coordinator for the UNC Center for Maternal and Infant Health, with support from Elizabeth Nicholls, a graduate student at the School of Social Work. The evaluation team partnered with the Carolina Survey Research Laboratory (CSRL) in the Department of Biostatistics at the UNC Gillings School of Public Health. To learn more about the survey or the resulting report, please email Paul Lanier or Katherine Bryant at the Jordan Institute for Families in the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.