Integrated data can help states better respond to and recover from crises like COVID-19

BlogCOVID-19Jun 1 2020

The COVID-19 crisis has caused millions of children and youth to experience severe disruptions in child care, learning accommodations, health services, behavioral counseling, and economic supports. Now more than ever, data are essential to helping policymakers and administrators understand the needs in their states, including helping families access services. Specifically, integrated data—which links data from two or more sources—is a key tool in answering critical policy, program, and research questions about children and families and the services they receive. For example, connecting data between licensed child care facilities and children receiving subsidized child care is essential for identifying supply and demand of child care during state shutdowns and as states reopen. Although states may face diminished budgets in the years to come, this is the time for all states to begin building integrated data systems.

State policymakers and program administrators need access to reliable and continuous data about early childhood services to understand what services have been disrupted, where services are most urgently needed, and how to deploy resources during and after the crisis to best support children and families. States with an early childhood integrated data system (ECIDS) have access to more comprehensive data, which can provide them with:

  • A one-stop shop to support rapid response planning. Policymakers and program administrators are able to track information across programs, such as which services children and families receive. They can develop a comprehensive approach to support vulnerable populations, especially when time and resources are constrained. For instance, states can better determine which services reach the greatest number of (or most vulnerable) children and families, during COVID-19 and in the future, to create coordinated and rapid outreach strategies when needed.
  • Access to real-time information. If data are integrated on a regular basis, policymakers and administrators could plan and respond more immediately and accurately than if they had to rely on outdated reports or statistics. For instance, real-time data can identify who may be eligible for additional services due to unemployment or income changes as a result of COVID-19.
  • A method to more easily identify gaps in services. Policymakers and program administrators can see whether children and families have access to critical services and supports during a crisis. For instance, for essential workers looking for child care during COVID-19, state leaders could quickly assess the level of demand and where there is care available that meets families’ needs.
  • A better understanding of short- and long-term outcomes for children and families after the crisis. States need to not just understand families’ current needs but also how to best meet their needs after the crisis. When information across a child’s life span is integrated (e.g., services received in early childhood with educational outcomes), states can understand the short- and long-term effects of COVID-19 on children and families and better understand how to help families. This information can improve and inform services now and during future crises such as natural disasters.

As a first step, states without an ECIDS can integrate information from two programs or services that are most needed at present (e.g., families connected to the child welfare system who might also be receiving home visiting services) to build knowledge and infrastructure for the future and more expansive data systems. For more information on building an ECIDS and developing and using integrated data, state policymakers, researchers, and advocates can find additional resources through the Early Childhood Data Collaborative. Additionally, leaders can adapt this series of resources aimed at supporting the integration of home visiting data with other early childhood data to build data systems.