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Advancing State Child Indicators Initiatives

Publication Date
Apr 30, 2002


Overview: Project Objectives, Operations, and Key Concerns

Sponsorship:  This collaboration with states was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), with additional support from the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

Objectives:  The initiative had two primary objectives. The first was to promote state efforts to develop and monitor indicators of health and well-being of children during this era of shifting policy. The second objective was to help institutionalize the use of indicators in state and local policymaking. The focus was on establishing an array of goals for children that are affected by many programs and conditions, and developing a range of child well-being indicators, that cut across agencies and programs, to monitor progress toward those goals. The project aimed to build on a cross-agency federal commitment to report annually on key indicators of children's health and well-being: "America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being". Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office (See

State Agencies Involved:  The Initiative involved partnerships among state government agencies with lead responsibility for addressing children's issues and programs including children's health, education, income support, child care and child welfare programs. With such broad-based representation, the partnership was in a good position to work on a wide variety of children's indicators across a number of programs and policies.

Participating States:  ASPE selected states to participate in the project based on the following: 1) their current status of indicator development, coupled with their preparedness to make advances and the type of advancements proposed; 2) their efforts to monitor program and policy changes; 3) the commitment of state leadership; 4) the involvement of public and private agencies in the partnership; and 5) their technical assistance needs. The Initiative included states at different stages of indicator development with the primary focus not on states' past efforts, but rather on how they planned to make advancements. The participating states were:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • New York
  • Rhode Island
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • West Virginia

Time Frame:  The states participated in the project from September 1998 until May 2000. The fourteen states were each given $50,000 per year for 2 years to support their indicator work. California was supported by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. States were additionally given support to attend a final meeting of state grantees in May 2001. The summary materials developed and posted here have been prepared, with input from states, since the May 2001 meeting.

Overview of Technical Assistance to States

Chapin Hall Center for Children was funded by ASPE to provide technical assistance to grantees. The technical assistance provided was a combination of activities that did three things:

  1. Assisted all state grantees in areas of mutual interest in indicator conceptualization, development, and institutionalization in policymaking processes through a series of technical assistance workshops;
  2. Supported smaller groups of states on particular areas of indicator development; and
  3. Directed more specialized attention to states that would benefit from individual consultation.

Technical Assistance Workshops

Grantees typically exchanged knowledge and expertise through a series of TA workshops coordinated by and held at Chapin Hall Center for Children. The workshops encouraged peer leadership and collaboration among states, and provided states with an opportunity to work with and learn from one another in areas of common interest. Chapin Hall discussed technical assistance needs extensively with participating states and worked collaboratively with them to develop the agenda for each meeting. State participants reported on progress, shared information on successes, and brainstormed around emerging and ongoing challenges. Key experts in the field of child indicators were invited to share their expertise and to brainstorm with participants as they discussed challenges and successes. The workshops were held in November 1998, April 1999, May 2000, and May 2001.

Support for Smaller Groups of States on Particular Areas of Indicator Development

Chapin Hall has also supported states' efforts in the development and refinement of indicators in specific areas of interest. In the second year of the project, several participating states expressed an interest in taking a lead and working more closely with a subset of states on a particular area of indicator work. The areas identified included school readiness, childcare, and promotional asset-based indicators. Chapin Hall staff worked with states as they pursued their work in these areas through such activities as helping with agenda planning; identifying, selecting and financing resource people for these meetings; and providing organizational and logistical support for the meetings themselves. Two topical meetings were supported. The "New England Forum on School Readiness and Child Care Indicators" meeting was hosted by the Rhode Island Kidscount/Dept of Human Services partnership, and was held in Providence in December 1999. The "Promotional Indicators of Child and Family Well-being" meeting was hosted by the Minnesota Dept of Health, and was held in St. Paul in February 2000.

Individual Consultation with States

Certain states expressed interest in individual consultation in specific areas of indicator work. Chapin Hall staff responded to these needs by providing these states with consultations by phone and email and/or through site visits to the states. Site visits to Alaska and Hawaii involved meeting with members of the state agency partnerships and other state governance groups, city and county agencies, research institutions, and other state or local groups that have proposed to work collaboratively.

Key Project Products and Publications

Technical Assistance Workshop Minutes

Topical Meeting Minutes

State Products

A list of reports and publications, by state, that states produced from their Child Indicators work. Products by topic

Initial Descriptions of the State Projects

Brief descriptions of the state projects as proposed in their applications for funding.

Key Themes: Reflections from the Child Indicators Project

Over the course of the 3-year project, a number of key themes emerged around indicator development and use. Based on workshop discussions and conversations with states, a series of short papers have been developed that summarize the thinking of states across these themes. Please note significant overlap across themes.

  1. General Uses of Indicator Studies
  2. The Importance of Cross-Agency and State-Community Collaboration in Child Indicator Development: Reflections from the Child Indicators Project
  3. Guiding Principles for Selecting Child Indicators: Reflections from the Child Indicators Project
  4. Data Development Principles for States and Communities Engaged in Child Indicator Studies: Reflections from the Child Indicators Project
  5. Communications Strategies for Reporting Indicators at the State and Local Levels: Reflections from the State Child Indicators Project
  6. Political, Legal, and Technical Issues in Data Linking: Reflections from the Child Indicator Project
  7. Use of Census 2000 and the American Community Survey for Indicators at the State and Local Levels

Workshop Session Paper Write-Up as full papers

Growing an Outcomes-Based Culture with Communities

Published or Forthcoming Papers

1. "Progress and Prospects in the Development of Indicators of School Readiness", Chapter by Martha Zaslow, Mairéad Reidy, Martha Moorehouse and Tamara Halle in a forthcoming book of the proceedings of the National Conference "Key Indicators of Child and Youth Well-being: Completing the Picture", held at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD. June 2001. For a copy of the DRAFT working paper, contact Mairéad Reidy at the Chapin Hall Center for Children (

2. "The Use of Indicators in an Overall Strategy to Evaluate Statewide Early Childhood Initiatives". Chapter by Mairéad Reidy in the Forthcoming National Governor's Association's "Guide to Evaluating Statewide Early Childhood Initiatives" 2002.

3. "Taking an Indicator Approach to Monitoring School Readiness: Early Reflections from the State Child Indicators Project". By Mairéad Reidy and Martha Moorehouse, Chapin Hall Working Paper, September 2001. See

Communicating the Results and Lessons Learned from the Child Indicators Project

Chapin Hall staff has also identified many opportunities to present with collaborating states at conferences and meetings where experience with indicator development and use would be of interest.

The National Association for Welfare Research and Statistics (NAWRS) annual meeting was identified as a critically important avenue to reach a broad range of people working with indicators. The Chapin Hall team, in collaboration with Martha Moorehouse of ASPE, led a panel discussion on the "Use of Indicators in the Policymaking Process" at each of the NAWRS annual meetings between 1998 and 2001. NAWRS is a nonprofit association whose purpose is to exchange ideas for the advancement of research and statistics in the field of public welfare. Organized exclusively for educational and scientific purposes, NAWRS sponsors an annual workshop for discussion of research, statistics, public policy, and reporting issues. The NAWRS workshop promotes the exchange of ideas on the collection, analysis, presentation, and application of data in the field of human services. It provides a forum to establish and renew professional relationships, to share experiences, and to explore ways in which research and statistical data analysis can contribute to the development and administration of effective social welfare programs. Workshop participants include representatives from state, federal, and local government, from universities, and from for-profit and nonprofit organizations.

At the NAWRS 1998 workshop, hosted by the Illinois Department of Human Services and held in August 1998 prior to the Indicators project initiation, members of the Chapin Hall research team chaired and coordinated a panel on "The Use Of Indicators in the Policymaking Process." Chapin Hall brought together discussants from Illinois, South Carolina and New York who illustrated how social indicators have been successfully used in the policymaking processes of states. Presenters discussed how indicators can be employed within state government to guide action on the part of government and help in the development and evaluation of policies and programs at both the state and local levels. Martha Moorehouse also presented an overview of ASPE's interest in indicators and outlined the ASPE's Request for Proposals for the Child Indicators initiative. See

At the NAWRS 1999 workshop, hosted by the Ohio Department of Human Services, the focus was on "The New Millennium, New Realities: Challenges for States." Chapin Hall Center for Children coordinated a panel of state participants in the Child Indicators project to discuss the use of indicators to monitor policy, including the impacts of welfare reform, health care reform, and child care expansion. Topics covered included the use of indicators in the creation of overall goals for children, public engagement in the indicator process, and indicator development. Presenters discussed how indicators could be employed within state government to develop and monitor policies and programs at both the state and local levels. State participants from Maryland, Vermont, Florida, and Rhode Island took part in the panel. See

The NAWRS 2000 workshop was hosted by the Arizona Department of Economic Security and focused on "The Dawn of the 21st Century: The Challenges and Opportunities." Chapin Hall again coordinated a panel, this time focusing on a specific area where states had made significant progress over the prior year: "The Use of Child Indicators to Track School Readiness, and to Monitor the Child Care Infrastructure". Alaska, Florida, Maryland, and Rhode Island participated in the panel and discussed how they effectively drew on the research base to identify sets of school readiness indicators and the challenges they faced as they sought buy-in at the state and local level for these indicators. See

The title of the 2001 NAWRS meeting, hosted by the Maryland Department of Human Services was "2001 Research Odyssey: Informing the Human Services Debate," and prompted Chapin Hall staff to propose a panel on the "Use of Child Indicators in Policy Planning, Development and Evaluation." Participants from Delaware, Maryland, and Rhode Island reflected on lessons learned over the past 3 years, and focused specifically on two broad themes: 1) the role of child indicators as a reference tool in policy planning, development and evaluation with an emphasis on how indicators have played into legislation or executive reform, and 2) the factors and contexts that influence how child indicators get used in states at the state and local levels. See

The Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM) annual meeting was also identified as a critically important avenue to reach a broad range of people working with indicators. APPAM aspires to be the leading professional organization dedicated to blending the talents of researchers, educators, and practitioners in the production, dissemination, and application of analysis bearing on public concerns. APPAM's annual fall research conference has become a preeminent venue for the presentation and discussion of applied public policy research, attracting 1000 participants for 150 panel sessions across three days of meetings in late October-early November each year. (

In 2000, the annual meeting "Doing and Using Public Policy Analysis and Management Research" was held in Seattle, Washington. Chapin Hall Center for Children coordinated a panel roundtable on "Improving Indicators for State and Local Policymaking," and focused attention on the successes of school readiness and child care infrastructure indicators in guiding policy decisions.

Supporting Nonparticipating States in Their Indicator Development. In addition, the Chapin Hall research team has participated in several meetings with a range of nonparticipating states on indicator development and use over the course of the project.

National Governors' Association Meeting, Virginia, February 1999. Opportunities to discuss the HHS/ASPE funded work included the National Governors' Association (NGA) meeting held in Virginia in February 1999, where Harold Richman, Director, Chapin Hall Center for Children, chaired a panel discussion on the use of indicators in policymaking and management.

Governor Jim Hodges meeting, South Carolina, March 2000. On March 6 and 7, 2000, at the invitation of South Carolina Governor Jim Hodges, Mairéad Reidy, Chapin Hall Center for Children, attended a meeting in Columbia on Evaluating Comprehensive Programs for Children. She spoke about the experiences of the Child Indicator states in developing and using indicators of child well-being. South Carolina has recently implemented its First Steps to School Readiness initiative, a results-oriented, statewide early childhood education initiative designed to ensure that South Carolina children arrive at first grade healthy and ready to succeed. Its goals include providing parents with access to the support they might seek to strengthen their families and to promote the optimal development of preschool children.

About twenty people from across the country were invited to meet with the Governor and work with the First Steps coordinators to discuss what is known about the evaluation of early childhood education programs, to identify the challenges of evaluating community-based initiatives to improve outcomes for children and families, and to understand what states are seeking to capture in their evaluations and what is needed to effectively evaluate the diverse, diffuse nature of initiatives like First Steps.

Mairéad Reidy participated in a panel with Donna Bryant of the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center and Kristin Moore of Child Trends. She discussed the indicators currently being used by the states involved in the Advancing States' Child Indicator Initiatives project. The participating states are developing indicators to track children's readiness for school (child physical well-being, social and emotional development, and child and family conditions); the readiness of schools for children; and the quality, affordability, and accessibility of the child care infrastructure.

National Governor's Association "Strategizing for School Readiness" meeting, Florida, June 2000.
On June 27 and 28, 2000, Mairéad Reidy participated in a meeting sponsored by the National Governors' Association in partnership with the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Finance Project on "Strategizing for School Readiness." This workshop was designed for states seeking strategies to ensure children enter school ready to succeed. It was held in St. Petersburg, Florida. Participating states included Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Vermont. Mairéad Reidy led a session on "Tracking Change," in which she shared some of the experiences of the Child Indicator states and their efforts to develop school readiness indicators and use them to monitor change over time. She drew on much of the work that had been accomplished at the New England Forum on School Readiness hosted by the Rhode Island Kidscount in partnership with the Rhode Island Department of Human Services. Mairéad outlined the growing research consensus about the components of school readiness and made the case for the need for indicators to reflect all components. First, it is generally understood that school readiness is not just a child characteristic. It rather encompasses the responsiveness and responsibility of the family, the community, and the early care and education system. Thus, when we try to measure school readiness, we need to consider how to monitor whether children themselves are ready, whether families support children's readiness, whether communities support the family and its children in their quest for school readiness, and whether schools are ready for children. Second, where the focus is the child, it is generally agreed that school readiness is essentially multidimensional and reflects the early learning and childcare experiences of children from 0 to 5 years of age. The five interrelated dimensions of early development and learning believed to constitute the components of children's school readiness are: physical well-being and motor development (including, for example, appropriate growth, fitness, health, and gross and fine motor skills); social and emotional development (including, for example, positive relationships with teachers and peers, and ability to express one's own feelings); approaches toward learning (including, for example, curiosity about new tasks and ability to draw on lessons from experience); communication skills, language development, and cognition (including, for example, aspects of emergent literacy such as awareness of the functions of print and ability to follow directions given orally); and general knowledge (including, for example, mastery of names of letters and shapes). School readiness thus reflects both what children know and can do when they arrive at the school door, and the experiences they have had over their first 5 years. Mairéad also outlined some effective data collection and communications strategies.

Involvement in Other Projects

Partnership with the National Governors' Association. Chapin Hall is partnering with the National Governors' Association Center for Best Practices, Child Trends, and The Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to develop a "Guide to Evaluating Statewide Early Childhood Initiatives." The Carnegie Corporation of New York is funding the NGA Center for Best Practices to help states build more comprehensive systems of early care and education by helping them evaluate and monitor the progress of statewide early childhood initiatives. The project is intended to advance the discussion among evaluators and early childhood program directors about evaluation issues and provide concrete guidance and tools that will help states as they work to strengthen their systems of early care and education.  See

The guidebook will take readers through the evaluation planning process, with discussions of the multiple components of evaluation, including indicators, process evaluations, and impact studies. It will answer questions about usefulness, expectations, and timing of these different components, including several state examples. Chapin Hall will write about the role indicators can play in an overall evaluation strategy. Drawing on the experiences of the fourteen participating states in the ASPE Child Indicators Project, Chapin Hall will discuss the purpose indicators can serve in evaluations, and principles for selecting indicators and selecting among indicators for communication purposes and will also highlight some of the indicators that states have in place to monitor school readiness and include the data sources for these indicators.

Project on Promoting the Well-Being of Infants, Toddlers, and their Families. ASPE and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation have provided funding to the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) to conduct a project aimed at identifying effective strategic actions to promote the well-being of infants, toddlers, and families. The project will identify promising federal, state, and community-based initiatives that promote the overall well-being of low-income infants, toddlers, and their families. It is focused on holistic efforts that knit together multiple, complementary strategies  touching several core aspects of families' complex lives. Chapin Hall Center for Children has worked with NCCP to identify promising initiatives that have been connected to the work of the participating Child Indicator States.


We wish to thank Mairéad Reidy, Senior Research Associate, Chapin Hall Center for Children, for writing this summary, the meeting minutes, and the Key Themes. All opinions expressed are those of the author.

State Child Indicators Listserv

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