Recommendations to Improve the Nation’s Data Collection System to Support Health Research and Practices for Early Childhood Development

WashingtonDC— Pediatric health policy and practitioner communities have shown a substantial interest in moving beyond narrow medical models of health to promote more broadly the development of very young children. This includes their social, emotional, intellectual, and physical well-being. Responding to this interest, Child Trends’ researchers analyzed 26 national data sources for their capacity to inform child health policy and practice in their efforts to promote early child development. They also provide recommendations for future data development.


Child Trends’ report, Studying and Tracking Early Child Development from a Health Perspective: A Review of Available Data Sourceswas funded through a grant by The Commonwealth Fund. It enables health researchers and policy communities to understand how national surveys measure up in the areas of health, health care receipt, socioemotional and intellectual development, family functioning and parent health, community characteristics, and child care and family demographics.


The following recommendations for future data development were made:


  • Protect and expand sources of federally collected state and local data covering early child health and development. Impact: policy decisions affecting early child well-being are increasingly being made at these levels, and policy makers deserve high quality indicator data as a basis for their policy decisions.
  • Expand the regular collection of data on the characteristics of neighborhoods and communities where young children live. Impact: presently, there are virtually no estimates collected on a regular basis allowing for tracking elements of a local environment that are known to shape early child well-being.
  • Add developmental screening assessments for children under age six to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Impact: the assessments will create a unique data sourceto support research linking health status to early socioemotional and intellectual development.
  • Include more details on the content of developmental screening and well-child visits in future longitudinal studies. Impact: further details will support research linking specific early health care practices to better intellectual, socioemotional, and physical outcomes at older ages.

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About Child Trends

Child Trends, founded in 1979, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center dedicated to improving the lives of children and their families by conducting research and providing science-based information to the public and decision-makers. For additional information, visit


About The Commonwealth Fund

The Commonwealth Fund is a private, independent foundation whose mission is to promote a high performing health care system that achieves better access, improved quality, and greater efficiency, particularly for society’s most vulnerable, including low-income people, the uninsured, minority Americans, young children, and elderly adults. For additional information, visit