Hassenfeld's Collaboration with State Partners Makes an Impact on Child Health in R.I.

When state and local agencies need a partner to assist with sophisticated evaluation of public health programs, they often turn to the Hassenfeld Institute’s Data Core for help. While the Data Core provides research support for projects within the Institute, they also collaborate extensively with state and local partners on a myriad of programs.

Last year, the Data Core, led by director Michelle Rogers, Ph.D., partnered with the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and Rhode Island Kids Count, just to name a few, on evaluations of the programs that improve the health of children and their families across the state.

“Our partners help us by sharing their data on child health and outcomes, and we give back by providing analyses of their data tailored to what they need,” Dr. Rogers said.

The Data Core has worked with RIDOH on several programs, including its Level 1 Newborn Screening Program, which screens all infants born in Rhode Island maternity hospitals, and its First Connections program, which contacts families with children who may benefit from additional support services.

Lauren Schlichting, Ph.D., the team’s senior research analyst, is conducting an ongoing evaluation of the Level 1 program, which provides early identification of children at risk for health and developmental challenges, such that they can be enrolled in services early in life, leading to improved health outcomes.

“This is a unique opportunity to work with data from multiple state agencies and in different fields. Usually, researchers only have access to fields from one or two sources. With the breadth and depth of data we have available, we can put together more pieces of the puzzle that is child health and wellbeing,” Dr. Schlichting said.

To evaluate the impact of the First Connections program, a free service that connects new parents with helpful resources and support services, Dr. Rogers and her team looked at data from 2012-2017, comparing the various outcomes of children who were eligible for First Connections and participated versus children who were eligible but did not participate.

Matthew Scarpaci, MPH, the team’s research analyst, looked at participation rates in the state’s family home-visiting program; Dr. Schlichting examined behavioral and developmental outcomes; and Dr. Rogers focused on emergency department visits, well-child visits, immunizations, lead screenings, and other health screenings. The team then provided a summary to RIDOH to share with its stakeholders.

“They knew from their experience that the program was working, but they wanted a data-driven assessment,” Dr. Rogers said.

Blythe Berger, ScD, of RIDOH said the collaboration between the health department and the Hassenfeld Institute on the First Connections program supports the work of the department as well as its early-childhood health partners.

“Dr. Rogers and her colleagues have the capacity to aggregate data and do sophisticated analyses that are really important to us and our community partners. It helps us to understand if our programs are doing what we have implemented them to do and whether they’re successful,” Berger said.

Ellen Amore, MS, who manages KIDSNET for RIDOH, worked with Dr. Rogers and her team on an analysis of clinical, administrative claims, and demographic data on childhood overweight and obesity in Rhode Island, which went on to be included in a policy brief by RI Kids Count. Amore said the contributions of Dr. Rogers and her team are “critical” to the statewide effort toward combatting childhood overweight and obesity.

“Their contributions to the analytic plan, as well as their speedy and careful review, cleaning, and analysis of the data were invaluable,” Amore said.

Learn more about our Data Core.