Effective indicators can be used to influence public policy. Policymakers need current, accurate information to help inform decision-making about investments and program strategies. Indicators provide that information.
The 17 states in the School Readiness Indicators Initiative have specific policy agendas. However, there are several policies affecting children and families that commonly appear in our work across states:
- providing income supports for working families (TANF, child care subsidies, etc.)
- improving child care quality
- providing health insurance for all children
- improving mental health services for mothers and children
States across the nation have made major shifts in state policy as a result of the development and tracking of important child indicators.
Experience from a very successful State Child Indicators Project funded by the U.S. Department of Human Services during the last two years has shown the power of having state governments develop and strategically use child well-being indicators. Through the HHS State Child Indicators Project, multi-agency teams of state policy and data staff worked within each state and across states to strategically develop indicators to track the impact of investments in welfare reform, child care, and school readiness. Significant progress was made, particularly with indicators of access to child care by low-income families.
While indicators have been reported routinely by child advocacy organizations, there is a critical need for state government ownership and accountability for the trends evident when indicators are tracked over time. State and local governments have more control over resources for young children and their families than any other group. The HHS State Child Indicators Project has shown that state government will invest in indicator systems, will work to improve data and accountability systems, and will use the results to inform policy and budget decisions.
The School Readiness Indicators Initiative has engaged the highest levels of state government. Each state committed to creating a multi-agency state team of senior policy and data staff that worked together to develop and use indicators to measure progress for young children. States committed the participation of teams that included staff from the key state agencies serving children: the Governor's Policy Office, Health Department, Human Services Department (including the TANF, Medicaid, and child care agencies), Child Welfare agency, Children's Mental Health agency, and Education Department.