Whether you are working on a needs assessment, evaluating a program, or starting a new project, reliable data is important to help make smart choices.
In our digital age, comprehensive data is available at our fingertips. Endless search options are accessible, but it can be overwhelming. Have you spent hours filtering through links and data sources to find one specific indicator such as the number of individuals in your community with post-secondary education or the poverty rate for a certain age group?
While the options are overwhelming, we can help point you in the right direction. We recently wrote the National Head Start Association Playbook on Data-Informed Advocacy for Head Start and Early Head Start, which included several key data sources for Head Start partners. This work inspired us to update our own cheat sheet of key organizations and resources that we use when pulling data for a variety of our clients. Below you’ll see an updated list and new resources added! We’ll also share some tips on where not to go for data.
Comprehensive Child Data
- Child Trends: Child Trends is a national nonprofit research organization focused on improving the lives of children, youth, and their families. Their databank features data by topic, including child maltreatment/welfare, early childhood, families, health, and social and emotional learning.
- KIDS COUNT Data Center: KIDS COUNT is a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and has comprehensive data on child and family well-being. Depending on the data point, the tool offers data at national, state, county, and school district levels.
- State of Babies: The ZERO TO THREE agency provides a comprehensive analysis of our youngest population through an annual report. State of Babies is a national and state resource reviewing over 60 indicators for babies and toddlers.
Population Data, Demographics, and Poverty
- Easy Access to Juvenile Populations (EZAPOP): This is our favorite source for youth single age population data. This source provides national, state, and county level population data by age, sex, race, and ethnicity. The website provides tools to easily compare data groups, and export the data for your own use.
- National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP): NCCP provides data and resources around children and their families related to poverty, low-income housing, early childhood education, mental health, immigration, public benefits, and more. Their tools include: a budget calculator, state data generator, and youth risk calculator.
- State Population Resources: Some states have created online resources that summarize the Census data for their state. In Indiana, STATS Indiana is a great resource to find quick profiles and maps on population, housing, education, income and poverty, health and employment. In central Indiana, SAVI is another resource with detailed information and profiles. SAVI features tools to analyze and visualize central Indiana community data. These websites tend to be more user-friendly than the Census.
- United for ALICE: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, or ALICE, looks at the population living slightly above the Federal Poverty Level who struggle to afford a general household budget. United for ALICE provides interactive tools to view data and information on these ALICE households by nation, state, and county.
- U.S. Census Bureau: The Census Bureau provides quality data about the people and the economy. It features a few data resource tools, including Quick Facts, the American FactFinder, the American Community Survey, and On the Map. Information is available at a variety of geographic levels, including national, state, county, city and town, township, region, census tract and more. In 2019, the Census Bureau enhanced their data tools to provide maps, visuals, and tables related to the data indicators.
- United States Interagency Council on Homelessness: This source features helpful resources and tools to explore the issue of homelessness at both the national and state level, and what is being done to combat those issues.
- Lumina Foundation: Lumina is committed to increasing the post-secondary attainment of Americans. They have national, state and metro area data available. Check out their Stronger Nation page to view data in your state and/or county.
- Office of Head Start: In every state and nearly every county, there is a Head Start and/or Early Head Start program promoting school readiness of young children. Data about the populations served and the program itself can be found through the Program Information Reports (PIR) updated annually. We used the PIR data to complete the Indiana Head Start Needs Assessment Report and Indiana Early Learning Advisory Committee (ELAC) Annual Report and interactive dashboards.
- State Departments of Social Services: Many state departments of social services or human services oversee child care for young children and school-age children. In Indiana, the Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA) Office of Early Childhood and Out-of-School Learning (OECOSL) collect data on early childhood education and out-of-school time programs.
- State Departments of Education: Each state’s Department of Education has information about individual schools, corporations, and their students. In Indiana, the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) shares this data online via “INview”, a searchable database to access educational attainment, testing scores, and free/reduced lunch rates.
- State Departments of Higher Education: Each State Department of Higher Education has information about post-secondary educational attainment. In Indiana, this is the Commission for Higher Education (CHE). They release an annual report and interactive dashboard featuring college readiness and completion data at the state, county, and school district level.
- Feeding America: We know that access to food correlates with the health of individuals and communities. Feeding America has an interactive tool online to explore food insecurity and costs at a local, national , state, county, or district level.
- Mental Health America: Mental Health America provides data and information around the mental health and well-being of youth. Use the interactive Youth Data tool to view state by state data.
- Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJ): RWJ provides annual county health rankings for communities via the County Health Rankings and Roadmap website.
- State Departments of Health: Each State Department of Health has access to health specific information. In Indiana, this is the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH). ISDH hosts Stats Explorer to make it easier to access health data at the state and county level. Information available includes data on the prevalence of drug overdoses, sexually transmitted diseases, births and deaths, cancer, infectious diseases, and other health issues.
- State Departments of Workforce Development: Each state has an agency or office focused on workforce development.In Indiana, the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) features workforce and economic data on a separate website, Hoosiers by the Numbers. Here you can find data by state or county on economics, education, employment/ unemployment, wages, and labor force.
Whew that’s a lot of resources! So where should you NOT go for reliable data? Here are 2 quick tips:
- Avoid data from news articles or social media. If there’s a data point you see in these sources, look to find its original source to determine accuracy and relevancy. The original source will allow you to defend your own narrative or graphic. Knowing the original source will also allow you to easily revisit it in the future for more data needs.
- Look for consistent sources and definitions. For example, Lumina Foundation may define adult educational attainment differently than the U.S. Census Bureau. This will cause data from the same year to vary between the sources, and in turn, could cause your audience to lose trust in the numbers being reported.
This list above is really just a start. There are many other reliable sources you can tap into depending on the topic. Some of the data is easily accessible, while others require a formal data request to their agency.
At TCG, we’re #datanerds. However, we know data is only as good as you make it. Use good data to your advantage by making it visually appealing (we love data dashboards!), presenting it in a meaningful way, and telling a story. If any part of the data collection, analysis, or visualization process is still too overwhelming, contact us to see how we can support your data needs.