The City of Philadelphia’s Integrated Early Childhood Data System

July 2018

Philadelphia Health Partnership (PHP) champions the integration of care and services in order to provide individuals and families with the full range of resources and supports they need to thrive. Developing robust partnerships between funders and local government is critical to that goal, so that we can work together to target and coordinate resources based on the distribution of needs and opportunities across Philadelphia families and communities. In the following profile, Christie Balka, who leads the City of Philadelphia’s Running Start early learning initiative, describes how the ongoing development of the City’s Integrated Early Childhood Data System is helping to generate population-level data that diverse stakeholders, including PHP and its grantees, can use to support more effective collaboration with public agencies.

Origin of the City's Integrated Early Childhood Data System

As stewards of the public trust, government and nonprofit partners rely on data to develop results-focused programs and policies and determine whether they make a difference for Philadelphia children and families. Yet, data systems are often designed to generate program- or agency-level reporting for funders, whether from other branches of government or foundations. The narrow focus of data collection that results can frustrate researchers and practitioners who lack the actionable information they need to develop cross-system approaches to improve the lives of vulnerable populations.

For example, research has documented that exposure to particular risks in early childhood (e.g., low birth weight, preterm birth, inadequate prenatal care, a teen mother, lead exposure, homelessness, and abuse and neglect) can compromise health, behavioral health, and school outcomes later in life. These risks frequently co-occur: one local study found that exposure to each additional risk lowers a child’s chance of reading proficiency, classroom engagement, and attendance in third grade by 30 to 50 percent [i]. Yet data about these risks is tracked by separate agencies.

The City of Philadelphia’s Integrated Early Childhood Data System grew from a desire to use existing data to understand the experiences and factors that influence the health, well-being, education, and economic security of Philadelphia’s residents, creating a portrait of risk starting at birth and including involvement across multiple health and human services agencies. Together these agencies – the Departments of Public Health, Human Services, Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, Office of Homeless Services, and Community Empowerment and Opportunity – spend more than a billion dollars annually to support the city’s most vulnerable residents. Over the last two years, the City’s health and human service agencies have challenged themselves to think about how data can most effectively be used to drive innovative policies and practices that cut across agency boundaries and funding sources to improve population health and well-being. A particular motivation has been arming agencies with the data they need to create human-centered design solutions that are responsive to individual, family, and community needs and preferences.

This was the charge stakeholders gave the City of Philadelphia’s health and human service agencies after Mayor Kenney was elected. In early 2017, the Health and Human Services Cabinet convened about 150 representatives of City agencies, contracted agencies (i.e., service providers), consumers, and community members to help develop an agenda for collaboration. Under the leadership of Eva Gladstein, Deputy Managing Director of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Administration first responded to this challenge by reviewing records to identify the 500 individuals whose repeated contacts with City agencies resulted in the highest per-person costs over a three-year period. Sixty-five percent of these individuals were children and young adults from 10 to 29 years old. To understand how to reduce the need for services among residents in this age group, HHS chose to focus first on a younger cohort: children from birth to age five. The decision was supported by research on the benefits of supporting early childhood health and development as a way to mitigate risks that are linked with adverse outcomes later in life.

Click image to see full-size map.

Reflecting the Administration’s commitment to supporting young children and to promoting equity, the City’s Data Management Office (DMO) mapped the prevalence of young children with two or more risks for poor school and health outcomes by neighborhood (creating Early Childhood Risk Maps). Using an evidence-based framework developed by University of Pennsylvania researchers, the DMO combined the records of children who met two or more of the following criteria: they had high levels of lead exposure, low birth weight, inadequate prenatal care, low maternal education, teen mothers, abuse or neglect, or were homeless. This resulted in the identification of 11,600 infants and toddlers (from birth to age three) and 7,464 preschool children (ages three and four) who are most likely to make the greatest gains from participation in targeted, evidence-based interventions including high-quality pre-kindergarten (pre-K), home visiting, and Early Intervention. The prevalence of children with exposure to two or more risks was then mapped by neighborhood (click here to see an example of the analysis).

The City’s Early Childhood Risk Maps have helped to guide decisions across City agencies. For example, the Mayor’s Office of Education used the maps to determine where to locate PHL pre-K, and PHL pre-K staff conducted targeted outreach for enrollment in neighborhoods with a large presence of children with two or more risks. The Health Department used the maps to plan outreach to child-serving agencies about resources to help improve population health and well-being. Nonprofit partners used the maps to help allocate technical assistance to strengthen the quality of early childhood programs in targeted neighborhoods. Realizing the utility of mapping population-level data by neighborhood, the City plans to augment these maps with more variables, including adding data on the prevalence of maternal risk and receipt of services to the next version.

Ongoing Efforts

Pennsylvania’s early childhood education system is primarily supported by state and federal funds that flow directly to local providers, intermediaries, and the School District of Philadelphia. In addition, the City funds early childhood education through its flagship PHL pre-K program. Given the decentralized nature of this system, the City will work in partnership with other public and nonprofit agencies to enhance the Integrated Early Childhood Data System by including additional data from other government entities and non-profit providers. With clear safeguards in place to protect children’s privacy, the involvement of an increasing number of data partners will foster additional collaboration around proactive strategies to support the city’s youngest children.

The City’s Integrated Early Childhood Data System augments private resources such as The Reinvestment Fund’s Child Care Map and a forthcoming statistical profile of Philadelphia’s infant-toddler population by Child Trends. For more information about the integrated early childhood system, contact James Moore at the City’s Data Management Office, .


[i] Rouse, Fantuzzo, & LeBoeuf. (2011). Comprehensive challenges for the well being of young children: A population-based study of publicly-monitored risks in a large urban center. Child Youth Care Forum, 40, 281–302.