Why the Children’s Data Network Caught the Hilton Foundation’s Eye

Once the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation caught wind of this, it wanted in: First 5 LA had fronted funding to develop the Children’s Data Network, hiring two researchers to study child well-being across various agencies and organizations in Los Angeles County. But upon hearing that the study would only cover infancy to age five, the Hilton Foundation was prompted to get involved.

With all its work smoothing the transition from foster care to adult life, the foundation wanted to add a transition-age component, so it put up $800,000 to make it so. Now the project is a partnership, quantifying and studying kids' well-being at two critical phases of development.

Related: Conrad N. Hilton Foundation: Grants for Mental Health

The Hilton Foundation learned of the project thanks to the researchers First 5 LA hired: Emily Putnam-Hornstein and Jacquelyn McCroskey. Hilton had worked with Putnam-Hornstein before, providing $125,000 to study teen pregnancy and parenting in 2012.

The resulting study, titled "California’s Most Vulnerable Parents: A Population-Based Examination of Youth Involved with Child Protective Services," was sobering. But it clearly showed the insights that can be gained from this kind of data linkage. “It was much better than we could have imagined,” said Jeannine Balfour, senior program officer for the Hilton Foundation. “The data was sobering, but her thoroughness made it a great research study.”

Given this background, it makes sense that Hilton would want to get involved with the project. It takes a special foundation-grantee partnership, and an especially thorough research team, to work through all the layers of complexity involved in assessing child services cases like these. The influences in children’s lives change over time, in pace with biological development, and keeping pace with the evolution can be a real challenge. “You can learn a lot by looking at what happens to young children, but if you aren’t also looking at development and what happens in adolescence, you aren’t getting the full picture,” McCroskey said.