(Photo: Jacob Sippel/USN)
The California Strong Start Index, a unique new tool that seeks to make better and smarter use of available data about children, was launched on Monday. The Index is based on the premise that all children deserve a strong start in life. First 5 Association of California, partner to the 2018 California Economic Summit, and Children’s Data Network developed the Index to help policymakers, service providers and government agencies support children and families more effectively and to ensure that resources go where they are needed most.
Half a million babies are born in California each year, with some having access to more resources than others. Children’s experiences and environments between birth and age five are foundational to their later good health, educational attainment and overall well-being. Research shows that 90 percent of a child’s brain develops by age five; thus, the earlier resilience can be developed in children, the better.
The new Index will use and link information collected at birth for every child in the state. The goal is to help children grow up on a more equal footing and to enable all children to receive the support and services that they need to thrive.
“We are excited about the conversations the Strong Start Index will encourage us to have, not just with early childhood experts who know well the importance of infancy as a period for healthy development, but also with civic leaders, business leaders, and others,” said Moira Kenney, executive director of the First 5 Association of California. “Our goal is to have a real conversation in California that truly lifts up this critical moment and opportunity for supporting families.”
The Index has been built from health, financial, family and service indicators that are universally measured and registered at birth and can document the resources available to each California newborn. These “assets,” which include healthy birth weight, timely prenatal care, and parental education levels and ability to afford and access health care, are foundational for babies to thrive and build resilience throughout life. The Index uses this information on an aggregated and anonymous basis to create a portrait of the resources that promote resilience in a given neighborhood, county or region.
From there, the information can help guide earlier targeted supports and services to make sure all children grow up with the early support, nurturing and education they need to reach their full potential. By monitoring the distribution of such assets among newborns in different communities, the tool can help ensure public investments are equitable and intentional. Over time, the Strong Start Index is expected to grow to include more indicators for resilience and success.
The Children’s Data Network and First 5 Association of California launched the Strong Start Index with funding from the Heising-Simons Foundation. The Children’s Data Network is a data and research collaborative funded by First 5 LA with additional support from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. It is housed at the USC School of Social Work and was developed in partnership with the California Child Welfare Indicators Project at UC Berkeley. In California, significant resources go toward data collection involving programs that serve children and families. However, these data are gathered and entered into distinct and separate data systems. The Children’s Data Network links information from these separate systems to help drive more informed policy and program decisions and more effective services in communities.
California’s 58 county-level First 5 organizations serve as a voice for the state’s youngest citizens. First 5s are funded under Proposition 10, which was approved by California voters In 1998 and levied a tax on tobacco products to support early childhood programs. First 5 builds the early childhood systems and supports needed to ensure California’s youngest children are safe, healthy, and ready to succeed in school and life. Across the state, First 5s are focusing on sustainable “systems change” to better meet the needs of families and to coordinate systems of care across the social services spectrum, including health, early education, housing, workforce development, and more.
In 2018, the California Economic Summit partnered with First 5 leaders to distill research and connections among family-focused programs, economic strategies and business practices. Through the Summit, California’s business and economic leaders, local communities, and government are forging new partnerships with First 5 to create new and more effective and comprehensive systems for addressing early childhood care and education needs in California. The Summit is supporting community and regional efforts, as well as state actions, to coordinate and expand high quality learning and nurturing for all children age 0 to 5.