CTSI Annual Pilot Awards to Improve the Conduct of Research

An Open Proposal Opportunity

Developing an administrative data system to investigate the social and health impacts of early childhood programs in San Francisco

Proposal Status: 

Rational: There is extensive evidence of pervasive social disparities in health, many of which take root in early life. The importance of early childhood in setting the stage for future health and social outcomes is buttressed by rigorous scientific studies across disciplines. However, what remains less investigated is how well this knowledge has been translated to public agencies responsible for implementing early childhood programs and family support services. The Department of Children Youth and their Families (DCYF) in San Francisco is one of the few departments in the country dedicated exclusively to meeting the needs of young people, and has made extensive investments in child physical and mental health programming and family support services (over 11 million dollars in 2010). However, the effectiveness of these programs in influencing key social, mental and physical health outcomes has not been investigated.  Through a collaborative effort of UCSF researchers, the San Francisco Mayor’s Office, the Department of Children Youth and their Families (DCYF), the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH), and the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), we propose to develop a linked administrative data system that will allow us to track and evaluate the impact of early childhood programming and family support services on academic achievement, and mental and physical health.

Plan: We propose to develop a data linkage between the DCYF and SFUSD systems, with the goal that this linkage will be generalizable to other agencies serving youth in San Francisco.  The goals for this proposal are to 1) assess similarities and differences in existing data structures used by DCYF and SFUSD, 2) address confidentiality issues related to establishing a linked data system in San Francisco, and 3) select and test linkage variables that will uniquely identify individual level information across DCYF and SFUSD datasets. Dr. Kaja LeWinn, a social epidemiologist in the Department of Psychiatry, will play a key role in this effort. Dr. LeWinn has spent the last two years working closely with SFUSD, has developed an intimate knowledge of the school-based services provided by DCYF and existing tracking systems, and has established relationships with key partners.  To accomplish our goals, our group with meet every other month for the duration of the award and Dr. LeWinn will meet individually with specific members as necessary.

Criteria and Metrics of Successes: At the end of this pilot project year, we will have developed a reliable linkage between the DCYF and SFUSD data systems, and submitted an application for grant support to further develop and implement this system.

Cost: We ask for $20,000 to provide salary support for Dr. LeWinn so she may dedicate research time to further developing this project and relationships with key public sector collaborators.

Collaborators: Our collaboration is united around the common vision that physical and mental health disparities begin early in life, and that a longitudinal, linked data system that tracks the usage and effectiveness of publically available programs will be an instrumental resource for both researchers and public policy makers. Key public sector collaborators and supporters include: the Mayor’s Office (represented by Hydra Mendoza); Richard Carranza, Deputy Superintendent for Instruction, Innovation and Social Justice, SFUSD; Maria Su, Director of the Department of Children Youth and Their Families; and Ritu Khanna, Assistant Superintendent, Research Planning and Accountability, SFUSD. Dr. LeWinn will play a key role in maintaining this partnership in collaboration with Orlando Elizondo, Director of the SFUSD/UCSF Partnership.  


Thrive in 5 (http://thrivein5boston.org/) is a similar collaborative initiative in Boston that seeks to unite families, early education and care providers, health care providers, and community organizations to make sure children are "ready" for school. Collaboration is organized around 4 sectors: Ready Families, Ready Educators, Ready Systems, Ready City and some of the indicators they chose to measure progress may be useful for you later in your research. A wonderful project!

Rebecca, thank you for directing me to Thrive in 5! It looks like a great project and one that I’d be happy to learn from as we move forward.

What a great idea. If I am reading this correctly, there are some similarities to a system that CTSI has just been working on -- in terms of developing data linkage between various systems for the purposes of reporting, tracking, evaluating, and also creating a framework by which further data sources can be added. If phase 1 includes a true reliable linkage, as the foundation, will you need more funds for some technical expertise such as a database architect / analyst? These roles were critical in the recent CTSI project.

Leslie, yes, there a database architect at DPH that we would be working with to complete this project. In fact, a very similar project is already underway but for a much smaller subset of San Francisco’s population. We are hoping to build on that experience and broaden the scope of the data linkage. Thanks for your comment!

Kaja Your proposal targets critical areas of childhood needs which can be applied to any city and county community as a model program. The CTSI CRS has an extensive list of studies currently underway and works closely with the national NCATS Children's Health Oversight Committee to monitor and improve on the diverse spectrum of health care needs for children. It would be a great collaboration to work with you to identify commonalities and areas of collaboration where we could help contribute to your nice proposal

Mario, thank you for directing me to the NCATS oversight committee. I would love to collaborate and learn more about what you are doing!

Creating integrated data bases is a worthwhile goal, and this is an example where UCSF expertise in data management and analysis can be of added value to SFUSD and DCYF. I would be interested in some specific ideas of how a more integrated data system would actually be used operationally for program improvement and community engagement research that could inform program delivery and community needs assessment. I recognize that this is not an intervention study, but would be good to see where this would ultimately lead in practical terms. Also, I would encourage the folks involved in this proposal to consider how it might align with the broader UCSF-DPH-SFUSD-other agency collaborative efforts being conducted under the auspices of the CTSI SF Health Improvement Partnerships initiative (www.sfhip.org).

I would be very happy to integrate the goals of this proposal with the larger efforts of SF-HIP. Thus far, I have realized that establishing these linked data systems are often occurring simultaneously across different agencies. I think UCSF can help in unifying those efforts. At the moment, I have been encouraging my partners to think about what they would like to learn from this type of system to promote commitment to the project, but I agree that a larger vision for what this type of data linkage might yield from a practical perspective is necessary. I hope that we can meet to discuss this further!

Kaja, Past and current resources for the CTSA Health Oversight Committee (CHOC)can be found at: https://www.ctsacentral.org/committee/ctsa-consortium-child-health-overs.... If you are interested in our past reports submitted by the UCSF/CTSI-PCRC I would be glad to share them, although they are clinical research focused. Best of luck with your proposal and efforts. Mario

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