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Kidsights Data releases tool, report on childhood development

Abbie Raikes, PhD

Abbie Raikes, PhD

Kidsights Data, an initiative to generate population-level data on the development of children from birth to 5, has completed a pilot in Nebraska. The initiative, located in the UNMC College of Public Health, is releasing a report titled “Nebraska Spotlight:​ Key Findings that Highlight Connections Among Early Childhood Development, Families and Communities,” with groundbreaking data for understanding how infants and children are developing in a defined geographic area.

Early childhood development is critical for lifelong health, learning and well-being, yet there has been no measurement that offers a population view into how children ages birth to 5 are developing until now. The goal of Kidsights Data is to validate and build demand for adoption and use of a population-based early childhood measurement tool that tracks development in young children in the United States, establishing new insights into the early years that encourages data-driven decision making. 

“The Kidsights Data initiative is unique in several critical ways, including the ability to learn how infants and children are developing from birth to 5,” said Abbie Raikes, PhD, lead author and UNMC associate professor of health promotion. “Until now, we had no way to determine how our youngest children, at the population level, are developing. The data generated from the Kidsights Measurement Tool, along with the publication of the data, is an incredibly important moment for the field of early childhood and our partnerships with parents, schools, cities and policymakers – locally and nationally.”

Through use of the Kidsights Measurement Tool, data is collected and analyzed, offering meaningful applications for early childhood and governmental leaders and providing new data on young children that can help inform policy and programmatic decisions at the state- and community-level. Insight into how infants, toddlers and children are developing will advance understanding of how communities, cities and states track the developmental trends and how strategic investments can address areas where data shows further supports are needed. Kidsights Data brings insights into blind spots facing families, early childhood professionals and community and government leaders.  

“What happens in the early years lays the foundation for long term health, education and well-being,” said Joan Lombardi, PhD, director of the Early Opportunities Initiative and a senior scholar in child development. “What Dr. Raikes and her UNMC team have accomplished in Nebraska is an exciting step forward in our understanding of the needs of young children, how to support families and how policymakers can respond accordingly.”

The Kidsights Measurement Tool was developed and tested for the first time in Nebraska, with partnership from the World Health Organization, the Health Services and Resources Administration of the federal Department of Health and Human Services and funding from early childhood foundations in the United States. The new report offers evidence on child development that generalizes to the population of Nebraska children, aged birth to 5.

See frequently asked questions about Kidsights Data and the report.

Using a representative sample of more than 2,500 Nebraska families, Kidsights documents the many successes, and some challenges, of raising young children in Nebraska. Highlights include:

  • Many Nebraska parents, regardless of where they live, their family finances or their own backgrounds, are providing stimulating and supportive home environments for their children, which was found to be the most powerful element of ensuring healthy development for young children. 
  • Early disparities in child development are evident in Nebraska based on family and community characteristics, particularly economic insecurity. About half of Nebraska families experience economic strain. Economic strain is associated with lower scores on child development. 
  • While there were no overall differences in child development scores between rural and urban families, families in rural areas reported more supportive communities and greater levels of economic insecurity than families in urban areas. 
  • Parental mental health is important. Nearly 60% of parents reported at least one adverse childhood experience, such as abuse, neglect or an absent parent. Parents’ early adverse experiences were associated with lower scores on child development. A total of 82% of parents reported having support for parenting. About 30% of parents reported some level of depression or anxiety, which in turn was negatively associated with child development scores. 
  • Supporting families with young children and encouraging families to continue investing in children’s home learning environments is important.

Addressing disparities in early childhood through policies and programs to benefit young children and families can lead to great returns on investments, child development experts say. Due to economic and social inequities, disparities between groups of children based on family income, geography and other factors arise early in life and tend to persist and grow larger over time. Therefore, reliable data on early disparities is important for data-driven decision-making, for example to establish a baseline for measuring child development over time, to inform decisions on where and when to invest and to judge progress. Data can play a critical role in informing policy and programmatic investments as early child development programs are envisioned, built and scaled. 

Marcus Waldman, EdD, UNMC research assistant professor, and Katelyn Hepworth, UNMC child health research manager, are co-authors. Funders of Kidsights Data include the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, Imaginable Futures, Pritzker Children’s Initiative, Overdeck Family Foundation and Valhalla Foundation.

3 comments

  1. Gleb Haynatzki says:

    Very nice study! Congratulations, Dr Raikes!

  2. Jessica Tschirren says:

    Great work Dr. Raikes & Team!

  3. Carol Russell says:

    Congratulations!! You and your family are incredible in our support of children and families!!
    Carol Russell

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