Data Linking Toolkit: Introduction

What is data linking?

Data linking is the process of connecting information about a record (e.g., child, service provider, service) from one data source with information related to that same record from another data source. This process can involve linking two existing data sets within a single program or linking one data set from one program with another data set from another program. An example of single-program data linking is linking child outcome data from one data set with service provider demographic data in another data set. An example of cross-program data linking is linking data about children or families who participate in both Part C and the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention program.

What is the goal of data linking?

Want to know more reasons to link data? See DaSy’s blog post, Why Link Data?

The primary goal of linking Part C or Part B 619 data is to create and analyze a new data set that program staff can use to answer important questions, inform program improvement, and ultimately better support children and families. Whether linking data from within a single program or across programs, the new data set makes it possible for program staff to answer questions they could not have answered before. Answering these questions may help staff improve services and programs, develop better policies, support the workforce, advocate for resources, educate the public about program benefits, support the use of evidence-based practices, and improve program operations and administrative efficiencies.

What drives the need for data linking?

Usually, data linking is initiated by the need to answer one or more complex questions that program staff cannot answer with only Part C or Part B 619 data. Questions may come from within the Part C or Part B 619 program, within the lead agency, conversations between administrators in different programs or agencies, state legislators, stakeholder groups, advisory committee members—anyone with an interest in early intervention or preschool special education. In response to the questions, Part C or Part B 619 program staff consider the availability of data that might be linked to find the answers.

Examples of important questions that require data linking include:

  • How do third-grade reading and math scores differ across groups of children who had Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)?
  • What percentage of children with IFSP/IEPs are spending time in high-quality early care and education settings?
  • How do outcomes for children and families differ by characteristics of the workforce (e.g., years of experience, level of education, and participation in professional development)?

Many more important questions can be found in a set of critical questions DaSy developed, many of which can be answered only with linked data. Additionally, the Part C and Part B 619 Data Linking section includes additional examples of questions Part C and Part B 619 might want to answer related to child outcomes and transitions.