Policy Resource

North Carolina Moves Toward an Integrated Data System for Young Children

Sep 20, 2016

In an effort to simplify the multi-layered and sometimes confusing matrix of state and federal services for children, North Carolina is creating an integrated data system to collect education, health, and social service data on children from birth to age 5.

An integrated data system is a single place for data for children and families served by multiple state and federal agencies. This allows North Carolina an accurate picture of services families receive, family characteristics, and outcomes for the child and family. An integrated data system simplifies navigating multiple layers of services and agencies a recipient has used by collecting, maintaining, and storing information from early childhood programs across multiple agencies. This includes information from early childhood programs such as Help Me Grow, Head Start, and home visiting, as well as state registries for birth certificates and immunizations.

In addition, North Carolina plans to unite the integrated data system with a preschool through workforce (P-20W) data system that would allow the examination of effects of early childhood programs and services over time.

So far, North Carolina has assessed state goals for the project and planned its data collection model. The state is now working on developing and implementing a web portal where users can access the data. The goal is to have the portal complete by the end of 2016.

The project was originally spearheaded by North Carolina’s Early Childhood Data System Work Group as part of a federally funded grant from the Office of Special Education Programs in the U.S. Department of Education to the Frank Porter Graham (FPG) Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Now, the project is funded through North Carolina’s Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) grant. The project, now called the NC Early Childhood Integrated Data System (NC ECIDS), is overseen by a Governance Council. The Council includes representatives from the NC Department of Health and Human Services, the NC Department of Public Instruction, the North Carolina State Head Start Collaboration Office, and the North Carolina Partnership for Children.

The need for the NC ECIDS became clear in 2008 when the Early Childhood Data System Work Group compiled information about the data fields, software, data collection processes, and any federal requirements impacting the existing agency data systems. Six statewide early care and education programs were surveyed, including Part C early intervention, preschool special education, Head Start, child care subsidy and licensing, pre-k, and Smart Start. Results of the analysis showed that few data fields were common to all programs and there was a wide variation in how the data were collected, aggregated, and managed.

In response to these findings, the Early Childhood Data System Work Group developed recommendations, including a universal approach to assigning child identification numbers, adoption of some common data fields, and information-sharing among data managers in various agencies. Using an existing software program, FGP staff conducted a pilot study with over 50,000 child records from three of the state early childhood programs. They found that 459 of the children participated in all three programs, and 5,277 were served by two of the three programs.

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