Key Themes: Reflections from the Child Indicators Projects. The Importance of Cross-Agency and State-Community Collaboration in Child Indicator Development: Reflections from the Child Indicators Project


Mairéad Reidy. Ph.D.,

Senior Research Associate
Chapin Hall Center for Children
University of Chicago,
(773) 256 5174 (phone)

This short paper is based on discussions between the fourteen states participating in the ASPE Child Indicators Project. It focuses on state reflections on the importance of cross-agency and state-community collaboration for developing and sustaining indicator work, and on the factors that contribute to successful collaboration.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) 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, the Child Indicators project has aimed over the past 3 years to promote state efforts to develop and monitor indicators of health and well-being of children during this era of shifting policy. The fourteen participating states are Alaska, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, and West Virginia. Chapin Hall Center for Children provided technical assistance to grantees. Grantees typically exchanged knowledge and expertise through a series of technical assistance 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 on areas of common interest. This short paper draws on the discussions of these meetings as well as individual consultation with states. I am grateful to participants for sharing their insights.

  • Cross-agency collaboration is seen as critical to the development and sustainability of indicators. The Child Indicators Project centered around partnerships among state government agencies with lead responsibility for addressing children's issues and programs, including children's health, education, welfare, and income support programs. These partnerships were of central strategic importance in building widespread support for establishing goals for children and for sharing responsibility for building indicators and tracking progress towards these goals.
  • Cross-agency collaboration is more likely when working with child outcomes that many agencies can rally around, where no one agency is solely responsible for moving the indicator, and when agencies understand the interconnectedness of the effects of program expenditures across agencies.
  • School readiness is an example of such a child outcome. The multidimensional nature of school readiness means that no one agency is solely responsible for moving the indicators. Likewise, the interconnectedness of the effects of expenditures across agencies provides an incentive to collaborate. For example, the department of education understands that money invested in health and early childhood care makes their work easier down the line. Likewise, the child welfare agencies need high-quality childcare slots available for at-risk children.
  • Many states also point to the importance of locating a school readiness indicators initiative within a centralized body, such as a governor's children's cabinet, and of complementing such a top-down approach with grassroots approaches that involve the community at all levels.
  • There is widespread agreement across states that it is critical to establish true partnerships among such community stakeholders as residents, parents, teachers, health care providers, and others. These partnerships are critical to the identification of community-relevant indicators, to the interpretation of readiness profiles, and to effectively use indicators to inform policy changes at the state and local level.
  • Cross-agency collaboration is critical to amass the expenditures necessary for indicator development because, although it is possible to draw on existing staff and resources for indicators developed using administrative data, indicator development involving survey work can be costly, and there is much competition for scarce resources.