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Promoting the Use of Data to Advance Equity

  ·   By Amelia Esenstad

Data collection and analysis are critical components of – and frequently the first, foundational step within – strategies to advance equity for children and families. However, recent efforts to undermine and eliminate national data tools and mechanisms will restrict the ability of policymakers and communities to fully understand differences among life experiences and impact of policy on promoting well-being and positive outcomes. These data are necessary to ensure sound decision-making and to assess the effectiveness of many policies and programs. Policymakers should not only preserve existing data strategies but should promote additional uses of data as well. 

The issues that policymakers face are often complex, and the data needed to design and implement solutions must match accordingly. Nuanced data looks at multiple data points and considers the intersections between them at different points in time, providing a more accurate picture of children, families and communities to emerge. These details enable jurisdictions to identify points where policy or practice change need to occur and to track and monitor changes and progress over time. Additionally, data should be collected for the purposes of analyzing the impact of policies and programs and should not be linked to individuals. 

Recent conversations highlight the importance of three important bodies of federal data: the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, American Community Survey and Supplemental Poverty Measure. 

H.R.482/S.B.103 is designed to dismantle policies that actively combat racial segregation. Section 3 of the proposed legislation specifically prohibits the use of federal funds for the database and is a critical component of this of this proposed legislation. However, even if Section 3 were to be removed from the bill, the remaining language still poses a dire threat to children, families and communities – and the AFFH rule. 

  • H.R.482, The Local Zoning Decisions Protection Act of 2017, would nullify the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule and ban federal funds “to design, build, maintain, utilize, or provide access to a Federal database of geospatial information on community racial disparities or disparities in access to affordable housing.” These data are essential to supporting desegregation and community efforts to provide equitable opportunity and access to fair housing, a goal of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. 
  • Repeated attempts to eliminate or make voluntary the American Community Survey (ACS) would weaken a key data source for both government and business communities. ACS data informs over $400 billion of federal government funding allocations each year for purposes as varied as education, health care, infrastructure and housing as well as drives business decisions and market research among retailers, entrepreneurs and others. Making the ACS voluntary would reduce quality and accuracy, particularly for communities of color, and would increase annual costs. With the U.S. Government Accountability Office already labeling the 2020 Decennial Census as “high-risk,” the ACS must continue to be recognized as a valuable source of information for policymakers and communities. 
  • Calls to eliminate funding for the annual Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) report fail to take into account the important data that the SPM provides when examining economic conditions. The SPM was originally developed to address limitations of the official poverty measure, which did not include the value of in-kind benefits or regional differences in cost of living, and to provide a deeper statistical understanding of poverty and anti-poverty programs. The SPM is a vital tool to study and record the positive impact that policies have on reducing poverty, and offers a much-needed complement to data collected through the official poverty measure.

Data plays a central role in shaping policy issues and solutions. The examples given here are only three ways that data can be used to illustrate a more detailed picture of the lives of children and families. Through efforts like these, policymakers can maximize the information available in order to promote equitable opportunities and outcomes for all.

We will continue to issue policy briefs, statements and blogs in response to attacks on equity, basic rights and well-being. These are continually evolving issues, and our analysis and specific recommendations will change as we learn new information. Please continue to follow us on social media (@CtrSocialPolicy and and visit our website at


Amelia Esenstad is a policy analyst at CSSP.

Research shows that the relationship between fathers and their children is essential to the healthy development of children and the well-being of families, however little attention is paid to the importance of engaging young fathers under age 26 who are involved with child welfare systems. CSSP recently published a set of policy recommendations, Changing Systems and Practice to Improve Outcomes for Fathers, Their Children and Their Families on how systems can better focus on engaging young fathers and creating opportunities for them to succeed and thrive. CSSP presented on the report at the 18th Annual National Fathers and Families Coalition of America Conference. The conference draws multi-systemic professionals, researchers, advocates and state and federal representatives; highlighting policy innovations and evidence-informed practices.

During the conference presentation, participants discussed opportunities for child welfare systems to improve engagement with young fathers. Participants shared successful practice strategies as well as systemic barriers. The need for multi-systemic partnerships in father engagement arose as a consistent theme, specifically among child welfare, child support and workforce development systems. There was an urgent call to work collaboratively across systems to reduce systemic barriers faced by young fathers and improve well-being outcomes for young fathers, their children and families.  Participants walked away from the presentation with a renewed commitment to fostering multi-systemic relationships within their local jurisdiction and creating opportunities for data sharing. 

To read the full Changing Systems and Practice to Improve Outcomes for Fathers, Their Children and Their Families report, click here.

To hear from young fathers in child welfare, watch this video.


Alexis Grinstead is a policy analyst at CSSP.

On Monday, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly mentioned in an interview that DHS was considering separating children from their parents when they are apprehended at the U.S. border in an effort to deter families and their children from travelling to the United States to seek safety. This practice would needlessly separate children from their parents and would have drastic consequences for child safety and well-being.

In FY 2016, Customs and Borders Protection (CBP) encountered 77,674 children and their parents at the border, many of whom were from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and seeking asylum, a form of immigration relief for which individuals cannot apply from outside of the United States. Currently, women and children who are apprehended together are placed in one of three family detention centers for up to 21 days before being released on bond, recognizance or participation in an Alternative to Detention (ATD) program while their case is pending before an immigration judge. Under Secretary Kelly’s proposed plan, these families would be needlessly separated—parents would be placed in detention while their children are referred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).  

Under current law, children who enter the United States without a parent and encounter CBP agents must be transferred to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within 72 hours of their apprehension. ORR then works to reunify these children with a parent or family member or place them in short- or long-term foster care – to be clear, these placements are not the same as foster care homes licensed and monitored through state child welfare agencies. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, DHS referred 59,170 unaccompanied children to ORR. In that same year, ORR reunified a majority (88 percent) of these young people with their parents or other family members in the United States and placed 12 percent in temporary or long-term foster care while they awaited the outcome of their immigration court proceedings. Oversight and funding for foster care for unaccompanied children is not done through the child welfare system but rather through ORR and its subcontractors.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), separating children from their parents as they seek refuge in the United States risks exacerbating an already emotionally and physically stressful time with additional trauma.

As we highlighted in our brief, Healthy, Thriving Communities: Safe Spaces for Immigrant Children and Families, family separation due to immigration detention places children at greater risk of psychological trauma, aggression and toxic stress responses. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), separating children from their parents as they seek refuge in the United States risks exacerbating an already emotionally and physically stressful time with additional trauma. Instead, the AAP recommends that children remain with parents, family members and caregivers during any time of anxiety or stress. Additionally, as a recent report from Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), the Women’s Refugee Service and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) highlights, current practice to separate families as a means of deterring other immigrants, known as the DHS Consequence Delivery System (CDS), has not been shown to be effective through evidence-based evaluation and often contradicts what we know about humanitarian protection needs, due process and the importance of family unity.

Immigration experts attest that children who enter the United States with their parents are less likely to have other family members already living in the United States, meaning that a majority of children separated from their parents and referred to ORR under this proposed plan would likely need to be placed in short- or long-term foster care. This would massively increase ORR’s foster care caseload, which is concerning given that it is an already over-burdened and under-funded system. Last year, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations found that ORR is unable to safeguard children from sponsors attempting to “accumulate multiple children,” often fails to require background checks on non-sponsor adult household members or backup sponsors, does not adequately use home studies or provide post-release services and often does not ensure a sponsor has adequate income to support an unaccompanied child. Furthermore, the report found that sponsors often inflict legal hardship on unaccompanied children by not ensuring their appearance at immigration proceedings, among other findings.

While ORR has made efforts to increase oversight and ensure child protection, increasing ORR’s foster care caseload without a requisite increase in agency resources increases the risk that children will be placed in settings that can be harmful to their well-being, such as placement in congregate care facilities or with unsuitable sponsors or human traffickers who claim to be family members. The inability to monitor and ensure safety for children may result in an increase in child referrals to state and local child welfare agencies – and possible placement in the child welfare foster care system. Without a requisite increase in funding, ORR cannot work to develop and implement rigorous screening, review, training and certification requirements for foster homes and more importantly any group facilities where children are placed and ensure strong accountability and quality monitoring to ensure child safety and well-being.

Instead of separating children and families in the hope that it will deter families from trying to enter the United States, DHS should work to ensure that children and families remain together throughout the entirety of their immigration court case. In addition, DHS should make the following administrative policy changes:

  • Require the hiring of child welfare professionals at the border to supervise child protection and ensure families are separated only in cases where it is in the best interest of the child;
  • Prioritize family unity when determining whether or not to place an individual in detention; and
  • Consider the best interests of the child in all decisions impacting the custody, release or removal of family members.

For more information on these and other policy recommendations to protect family unity at the border, please see Betraying Family Values: How Immigration Policy at the United States Border is Separating Families. For more information on the costs and implications of separating children from their parents at the border, please see Separating Mothers from their Children at the Border is Wrong and Costly by KIND and the Center for American Progress.  

This is a continually evolving issue and our analysis and specific recommendations will change as we continue to learn new information. Please check back with our blog for the latest information. 

You can download this as a fact sheet here

Rosalynd Erney is a policy analyst at CSSP. 

Questions about the so-called preschool “fade-out” effect are once again stirring up opinion on the merits of investing in early care and education. Recent articles with misleading headlines seemingly call into question the value of preschool programs for low-income children, though deep into the articles the authors defend early care and education as a worthy investment. Many readers will recognize sensational headlines for what they are: “click bait,” but in the current political and policy climate, when it comes to investing in the very young, this editorial practice, we believe, is both irresponsible and dangerous.

The “fade-out” argument, in actuality, grossly misleads readers to lump findings from research studies of programs of various quality, dosage and populations into one question: “is investing in early childhood education worth it”? On the contrary, considering the extent of the nation’s resource and opportunity gap for millions of young children and their families, the only question worth asking is, “is our investment enough?”

As the work of economist and Nobel Laureate James Heckman and others show, there is an overwhelming body of quality recent evidence that investments in comprehensive supports and services for economically and socially marginalized children and their families yield significant positive impacts for individuals and society. The evidence also suggests that benefits are greater and longer-lasting the earlier in a child’s life an intervention starts. Indeed, according to Heckman, “[t]he research shows that high-quality birth-to-five programs for disadvantaged children can deliver a 13 percent per year return on investment—a rate substantially higher than the 7 to 10 percent return previously established for preschool programs serving 3- to 4-year-olds. Significant gains are realized through better outcomes in education, health, social behaviors, and employment.”

To be fair, it should be no surprise to find evidence that a single year of pre-kindergarten instruction, even if it is of high quality, is not sufficient to “inoculate” against the future challenges many children face in elementary school and beyond — challenges that are largely the result of decades of community disinvestment, racial discrimination, and educational and economic disparities.

Skeptics also can rightfully call into question any investment that is built on a promise of large returns but that does not, in fact, sufficiently fund interventions that match the original program’s design. To think otherwise is unfair to the participating children, hardworking teachers and staff, and the families and taxpayers who pay for it.

But the answer is not to defund pre-kindergarten programs. Even the authors of the recent articles say so once you get into the fine print. Rather, the answers lie in paying attention to, and investing in, programs that incorporate strategies to address the contributing factors to successful interventions. To name a few, this list includes:

  • Respecting and supporting parents in their role as their children’s primary nurturers and teachers, as advocates for their children and their families, and as leaders and decision-makers within programs and within their communities;
  • Parental choice and continuous access to high-quality, birth-to-five early care and education options that meet families’ needs;
  • Comprehensive, two-generation supports for children and parents that address health, nutrition, basic needs and family economic stability;
  • Adherence to high-quality standards and developmentally appropriate curricula;
  • Highly skilled and adequately compensated staff;
  • Positive, strengths-based relationships among and between children, families and staff; and
  • Culturally and linguistically inclusive practice.

In the current political climate when every domestic program is under intense scrutiny and the threat of budget cuts, researchers and advocates alike must be crystal clear in their arguments and evidence. We must all avoid clouding the conversation with sensationalized rhetoric, and must call out inconsistencies and misconstrued arguments when we see them. To do any less threatens decades of progress toward leveling the playing field for families and communities that have been historically marginalized and threatens the advances we have begun to make in providing successful interventions for young children and their families.

CSSP stands firm in its commitment to supporting innovation and evidence-informed approaches that support children within the context of their families and communities. We call on researchers, advocates, policymakers and civic leaders to join us in continuing our collective efforts to promote policy, practice and systems change in order to create opportunities that promote well-being and economic success for all children and families. 


Anna Lovejoy is a senior associate at CSSP. 

In recent weeks, CSSP's pursuit of its mission to promote the safety, security and well-being of all children, youth, families and communities, especially those who are systematically left behind, has required additional vigilance and timely and visible action. As Congress moves to dismantle the current structure for providing health care to low-income children and families, once again, we must speak up.

A range of proposals are currently being considered to restructure the foundations of health insurance coverage for low-income children and families, including changes to Medicaid (Title XIX), the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the Affordable Care Act (ACA). These three health care financing programs provide coverage for millions of poor families and children and the consequences of change are likely to be very significant for their well-being. 

In a new brief series, we highlight the potential impacts of proposed changes on our most vulnerable populations of families and children and highlight several concrete, actionable policy strategies that policymakers at the federal and state level can take to ensure children and families continue to have quality health care and health insurance through Medicaid, CHIP and the ACA.

The two briefs released today highlight the vital role that Medicaid, CHIP and the ACA play in reducing health disparities, improving coverage and achieving equity in health outcomes for young children and families and children and families involved in the child welfare system. On our website, you will also find information on the race equity implications of restructuring Medicaid and CHIP.

We will continue to issue policy briefs, statements and blogs in response to attacks on equity, basic rights and well-being. These are continually evolving issues, and our analysis and specific recommendations will change as we learn new information. Please continue to follow us on social media (@CtrSocialPolicy and and visit our website at

Download and read the new briefs Promoting Healthy Outcomes for Young Children and Their Families: Implications of Proposals to Restrict Medicaid, Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Protect Medicaid: Critical Opportunities to Support Children, Youth and Families Involved with Child Welfare.


Download and read The Racial Implications of Proposals to Restrict Medicaid, Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the Affordable Care Act (ACA).


Shadi Houshyar is a senior associate and project director at CSSP.


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