Children’s Healthwatch: The Data System for the Next 20 years

When Children’s HealthWatch started 20 years ago in 1998, we had a passionate mission: to measure the impact of the “new” policies, namely welfare reform, and their impact on the health and development of young children and their families. So, equipped with paper surveys we created, we began talking with families of young children across the country about their ability to afford enough food given the harsh sanctions some of them were facing under new welfare rules. At the time, documenting that families of infants and toddlers were experiencing food insecurity and measuring the consequent adverse health effects of losing welfare benefits was groundbreaking. As we talked to one family after another about their experiences, we saw the stark realities of economic downturns and policy decisions on the health of the children in our clinics. This made us realize we needed to do more and to expand our questions and our timeline. As the number of surveys grew, in 2009 we modernized our data system by collecting interviews electronically. Over the last 20 years, we have been able to interview over 65,000 families, publish over 85 policy publications and 43 peer-reviewed journal articles.

This year we launch an initiative to transform our work by completely redesigning the way we collect data. Our vision is to create a cutting-edge data system that is flexible and puts us ahead of the curve in generating evidence and sharing our findings on policy issues. This initiative will not merely be a technological upgrade; it will enable to us to engage families with new questions and tackle emerging issues and opportunities while continuing to respond to known challenges families with low incomes face today and in the future. Utilizing new sets of survey questions that are interchangeable alongside an established core set of questions will allow us to cover a wider scope of topics and explore them in-depth. For example, we hope to examine how families’ experiences with discrimination and violence affect their ability to access enough food, to understand the importance of neighborhoods and communities and their impact on the health outcomes of young children and their families, and to investigate the influence of work supports such as child care on the economic well-being of families with infants and toddlers.

As physicians, we know diagnostics are critical to providing the right treatments. This new initiative will provide us with better diagnostic tools for producing timely, innovative, and policy-relevant research to help children, communities, and our nation thrive. With your support, we can make this vision a reality.