Lessons from the early care and education field for home visiting data integration
In recent years, the early care and education (ECE) field has made strides to support the coordination and use of early childhood data to inform program practices and policies. A recent survey by the Early Childhood Data Collaborative found that 22 states have established systems to support cross-agency data sharing and the use of integrated data to measure utilization and outcomes of early childhood services. In fact, the study shows that 19 states have developed an Early Childhood Integrated Data System (ECIDS) to combine, secure, and transform data into reports that can be used by decision makers to inform policies and practice.
Despite considerable effort to link and share data across ECE programs, though, most states have not yet included home visiting data in their integrated systems. Home visiting data has not been linked to other ECE data, in part because of the difficulty of linking data. Home visiting is not just one service or program, but many; it represents a range of models and services, each with different data collection requirements and data storage systems. Still, these models often serve the same children and families who participate in other early childhood services.
To best serve those who receive home visiting, states must be able to answer important questions. For example, what other services do these children receive? What are the short- and long-term outcomes for children receiving home visiting services? By integrating home visiting and other early childhood data, states can better answer these questions.
Data integration lessons from ECE for home visiting
Many years of work on ECIDS have generated lessons for states looking to integrate home visiting and other early childhood data. The State-level Home Visiting Integration with Early Childhood Data Systems (SHINE) initiative aims to share these lessons with states. SHINE is working with five states to develop a series of resources to support other states in their own efforts. By integrating data or building state ECIDS, the ECE field has learned much about factors that support effective data integration across programs and services. These same lessons are relevant to integrating home visiting data into ECIDS.
- Data integration should have a clear purpose and vision. Access to integrated data from multiple agencies allows policymakers, educators, and parents to think about and use data differently. Data integration should be guided by clear, achievable goals that prioritize which data must be linked and how they will be used to guide program and policy development. Each SHINE state explores specific policy questions that require linking home visiting data to other early childhood data. For instance, Oklahoma is interested in whether children enrolled in home visiting are more likely to have well-child visits with a doctor over a longer period of time; this requires integrating currently unlinked data from multiple programs within the state department of health.
- Align data with your system’s goals. Integrated data should be used only for the purposes agreed to by stakeholders that fit within the overall vision for the data system. Link only data that are necessary to address the system’s needs. For example, North Carolina first drafted policy questions that aligned with the data system’s vision and goals, which is helping to guide current efforts to integrate home visiting data from its Division of Public Health into the state ECIDS. For example, how many children participating in home visiting also receive other ECE services? Next, the state will review each model’s data elements to determine which data should be used to answer the policy questions.
- Governance plays a vital role in data integration. Policymakers can establish policies to guide the coordination, security, and appropriate use of data. Stakeholders (e.g., parents, professionals, program administrators, policymakers) should be involved in identifying data needed to inform polices, safeguards to ensure privacy, and strategies to build fully coordinated longitudinal data systems. For example, Rhode Island’s state and agency leadership are developing an overarching governance structure to set goals and policies about data integration, access, and use for all early childhood programs, including home visiting.
- Budget for adequate staffing and technology resources. Any data integration plan should address funding for resources needed to link, analyze, and share results with stakeholders. Without funding for development and ongoing maintenance—including dedicated staff—systems will not be sustainable. For example, Minnesota’s ECIDS has dedicated staff and resources to manage data integration, including home visiting data.
It is critical that home visiting and other early childhood services work together to integrate data, thus allowing them to answer important program and policy questions that cannot be addressed by working in siloes. The home visiting field can leverage lessons learned from ECE to better prepare for and support the integration of data between home visiting models and with other early childhood data.