USC Research Gateway Scholars Program

CDN undergraduate student, Rachel Chen, has been accepted as a scholar in the USC Research Gateway Scholars Program. This 2-year program is an opportunity to propose and conduct formal research under the guidance of USC Faculty mentors and a gateway to pursuing graduate-level studies. Selected among a highly competitive pool of applicants, Rachel’s acceptance highlights her great potential to make a meaningful impact throughout her academic career. The CDN would like to congratulate Rachel on her achievements and hope she enjoys all of the exciting challenges and opportunities.

Strengthened Tool Promotes Equitable Investment in California Children and Families

New Data and Features Enhance the California Strong Start Index

A powerful tool that can help guide critical resources to California’s newborns and their families in need is now even stronger thanks to new features and richer data.

Today, the Children’s Data Network and the First 5 Association of California unveiled the newest iteration of the California Strong Start Index, a free online resource that uses statewide data to identify areas where babies, young children, and families may need more support. The enhanced index now features data on recent birth cohorts, from more geographical areas, and by racial and ethnic group.

“All babies deserve a strong start in life, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or where they were born and live,” said Kim Goll, First 5 Association Executive Committee President and Executive Director of First 5 Orange County. “It’s imperative that people with the power to make decisions about where funds are allocated understand the conditions into which our state’s babies are born. By consulting the Strong Start Index, they can ensure resources for young children and families go where they are needed most.”

Each year, nearly half a million infants are born in California. Their human, social, and material assets vary widely, with significant consequences for growth, resilience, and well-being throughout their life. Research emphasizes the importance of early childhood experiences in promoting positive adolescent and adult behaviors.

Since its launch in 2019, the Strong Start Index, funded by the Heising-Simons Foundation and with critical infrastructure support from First 5 LA and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, has helped government officials, service providers, and others identify areas where those assets might be lacking for newborns and their families. The data tool analyzes 12 indicators available in state birth records that researchers have found are related to positive outcomes throughout life.

Those indicators include family-related factors like being born to parents with a high school diploma or college degree, health-related factors such as healthy weight at birth, supportive resources like access to timely prenatal care, and financial benefits like the ability to afford and access health care.

“Research has consistently shown that these factors are tied to a greater likelihood of having healthy and thriving infants who grow into resilient adolescents and adults,” said Agnieszka Rykaczewska, Evaluation and Learning Manager at First 5 LA. “Because this index gathers data from across the state for all births each year, we can use it as a vital input to help us determine where more early childhood efforts should be directed.”

Strong Start Index scores are calculated by adding the number of assets available to each baby and averaging them at the census tract level. Detailed maps at the Strong Start Index website reveal neighborhoods where newborns have more or fewer supportive resources, ensuring that decision makers can guide investments to the communities with greatest need.

The site now includes data through 2017 and allows users to compare multiple years of data to understand how neighborhoods have changed over time. Users can also view Strong Start Index scores by city and federal legislative districts, and researchers and others can download the full dataset for independent analysis.

For the first time, information is also available by race and ethnicity, revealing disparities among infants from different backgrounds and born into different communities. For example, the racial/ethnic distribution of communities with the highest average number of assets look very different from the communities with the lowest average number of assets. Specifically, in 2017, communities characterized by births with the greatest advantages were also communities into which overwhelming numbers of white and Asian/Pacific Islander children were born. Meanwhile, Latino and black children found themselves born into communities with the least advantage and the lowest average number of assets. This is only one example of the information that can be gleaned from this dynamic policy and research tool.

“One of the goals of the Strong Start Index is to shine a light on the variation that exists in our communities,” said Emily Putnam-Hornstein, director of the Children’s Data Network and an associate professor at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. “The racial and ethnic disparities confirm what we see playing out in our child care settings, schools, health clinics, and communities across California. And although these conditions at birth don’t predetermine the future of any given newborn, understanding differences can guide thoughtful support to ensure children with fewer resources find themselves on a level playing field with their peers.”

To learn more about The Strong Start Index, please visit

CASSi in Action

The California Strong Start Index is being received as a valuable tool for equitably allocating resources within communities. Public, private, and philanthropic partners are using it to:

  • Generate information related to racial / ethnic disparities (California Governor’s Office);
  • Facilitate the identification of “Communities of Need” for the statewide California Home Visiting needs assessment (California Department of Public Health);
  • Estimate number of slots for a universal, but also tailored Home Visiting program (First 5 LA, First 5 CA, California State Budget – May Revise);
  • Identify communities faring better on the EDI than what would be ‘predicted’ using the CASSi (First 5 OC);
  • Inform Impact Framework Monitoring Measures (First 5 LA);
  • Augment and validate other local-level information (First 5 LA, First 5 Sonoma, First 5 Fresno, First 5 San Mateo, etc.)
  • Inform community needs assessments (First 5 LA, First 5 Sonoma, First 5 Fresno, First 5 San Mateo, etc.)
  • Inform strategic plans (First 5 LA)
  • Enhance other datasets through overlays

In addition, it has been fully integrated into First 5 California’s statewide Home Visiting Workforce Study (RFP CFF 7554). Applicants are required to use the Strong Start Index as an anchor point to 1) project future home visiting needs; 2) justify proposed workforce investments; and 3) recommend geographic distribution of those resources in alignment with the distribution of vulnerable families across California.

We applaud this, and all other, efforts to make better use of existing data to inform programs and policies.

Please visit and project page to access the data, view the animation, explore detailed methodological documentation, download information by race/ethnicity, and to find detailed examples of how the strong start index is being used to facilitate equitable investment in the children and families of California.

Why Doesn’t the U.S. Have an Accurate Count of Child-Abuse Deaths?

Last week, The New Yorker published a story about state to state variations in accurately and consistently documenting child-abuse related deaths. Although the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System estimated 1,720 children in the United States died due to abuse and neglect in 2017, the journalist documents numerous reasons this number should be questioned. Emily Putnam-Hornstein, Principal Investigator at the Children’s Data Network, was quoted saying “The numbers could easily be three times or four times higher than what’s reported.” In California, we know that at least 1,469 children have died from maltreatment between 2008 and 2018. Putnam-Hornstein goes on to explain, “The death itself may be a rare occurrence, but the circumstances around it are usually far from rare. We can look at those circumstances to see what went wrong and learn how child-protection agencies can conduct better investigations and make better decisions.” Please visit our project page, Population-based, Birth Cohort Studies of Child Deaths Before Age 5, for a summary our work related to child fatalities.

Moving Families from a Hotline to a Helpline receives a Gold Eagle award

We are proud to announce that the Moving Families from a Hotline to a Helpline project has been awarded this year’s Gold Eagle, the LA County Quality and Productivity Commission’s highest honor. The project applies Lean Six Sigma principles to streamline linkage between DCFS families and preventative services and supports.

Conceptualized and implemented through a unique partnership between the LA County Board of Supervisors (BOS), Office of Child Protection (OCP), Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), County Counsel, Mental Health, Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, and the Children’s Data Network (CDN), the project has tripled the number of families connected to prevention supports and cut enrollment wait times in half. These outcomes are promising. All involved appreciate the recognition for this innovative solution to strengthening and empowering vulnerable families.

Click here to learn more about the award.

Data-Driven Decision-Making in Macro Practice Social Work

Dr. Jacquelyn McCroskey, endowed professor at the USC School of Social Work and the Co-Director of the Children’s Data Network, recently sat down with Rachael LeBlond from SAGE Publishing for an interview about the importance of data-driven decision-making in macro-level practice in social work. 

As opposed to direct interaction with clients to address individual problems, macro practice social work aims to improve the systems with which clients interact. As such, macro practice involves various organizations and key players, including social workers, attorneys, doctors, school teachers, and counselors. Keeping these key decision-makers on the same page is crucial to protecting and supporting vulnerable children and families. “[Data] serves almost as a translator between people with different roles in the system. It creates a common language,” notes Dr. McCroskey. In this way, and many others, data can facilitate real change in the lives of vulnerable children and families.

Click here to watch the interview and learn more about the ways data can inform policy and practice.

Latest News on Dr. Megan Finno-Velasquez

The CDN would like to congratulate researcher Dr. Megan Finno-Velasquez on receiving one of the 2019 Hispanic Research Scholars Program Awards, sponsored by the National Research Center on Hispanic Children and Families. In collaboration with the Center investigators, she will conduct research on early childhood support for Hispanic children. Dr. Finno-Velasquez has also been appointed as Director of Immigration Affairs for the New Mexico Children, Youth, and Families Department. Over the next year, she will develop an immigration unit designed to improve the policies and practices that support immigrant and refugee children along the border and throughout New Mexico.

Latest News on Tenia Davis

CDN fellow, Tenia Davis, was selected for the Center for Innovation in Child Maltreatment Policy, Research, and Training (CICM) 2019 LEAD predoctoral program and recently attended the three day summer institute held at Washington University in St. Louis. The program is designed to provide education and training opportunities to predoctoral scholars interested in pursuing a PhD in social work, public health, or public policy areas. The CDN would like to congratulate Tenia on her acceptance into the program and look forward to leveraging her knowledge and experience to inform program and policy development in the area of child maltreatment.

Paving the Road to Safety for Our Children: Los Angeles County’s Prevention Plan Two Years In…

Two years ago, the Los Angeles County Office of Child Protection (OCP) released a report entitled Paving the Road to Safety for Our Children: A Prevention Plan for Los Angeles County. The report was OCP’s “blueprint for partnering with the Los Angeles region’s diverse communities to coordinate and expand existing prevention-focused networks to further strengthen families, prevent child maltreatment, and reduce unnecessary burdens on the child welfare system.” We were proud to collaborate with the Department and First 5 LA to help achieve goals outlined in the original report. The OCP released a report Paving the Road to Safety for Our Children: Los Angeles County’s Prevention Plan: Two Years In… that detailed activities and developments that have been accomplished. We supported efforts including: (1) the identification and mapping of over 500 prevention-related networks; (2) the creation of an initial set of countywide prevention metrics that measure the County’s efforts to support strong children, families, and communities;  (3) the development of plans to create a universal home-visiting system; and 4) conducting a comprehensive fiscal analysis of early care and education programs across the county. We look forward to supporting the OCP, County Departments and community partners in work to strengthen families and protect children.

California Strong Start Index

The CDNs’ Strong Start Index was highlighted in the newest issue of insights, a publication by the California Child Welfare Co-Investment Partnership. Focusing squarely on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), the issue identifies the Strong Start Index as a valuable resource for identifying areas in need of greater supports to bolster family resilience and well-being, an intervention key to mitigating negative outcomes.

We are thrilled to be included in the discussion about the need for policies and practices to serve the state’s most vulnerable children. Please visit to learn more about how communities are using it to facilitate equitable investment.

1150 South Olive Street, Suite 1400
Los Angeles, CA 90015
General Questions
Sign up for our mailing list to stay up to date with the Children's Data Network's latest research and news developments.