NC Early Childhood Action Plan: Achieving Goals with Innovative, Evidence-based Policy Solutions (2019-2020)


Early childhood is a crucial developmental period that sets the foundation for success later in life. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services released a draft Early Childhood Action Plan that documents goals related to improving outcomes for young children. It reflects efforts by the state to establish a comprehensive approach to improving health and well-being of young children by addressing their physical health, social and emotional well-being, cognitive development, learning competencies and social environments.

Established by the North Carolina Early Childhood Advisory Council, the plan aims to bridge the child service areas historically defined for early childhood and those for the school-age years. To meet its objectives, the state will implement strategies coordinated across a broad array of service sectors and professionals.

The Early Childhood Action Plan outlines 10 goals with specific targets, but what is lacking from the plan is a clear strategy and the evidence behind potential interventions.

Project Description

The research and evidence base available to policymakers for young children is substantial, yet translation of research into practice has been limited. Innovative, practical and evidence-based policy solutions targeting these identified goals are needed. This Bass Connections project will compile scientific and practical knowledge to inform North Carolina’s Early Childhood Councils on how the state can achieve and track the goals in the Early Childhood Action Plan.

The project team will conduct a systematic review of the empirical literature, compile a review of policies and practices within the counties and regions in North Carolina and other states and conduct interviews with key stakeholders. The team will then write policy briefs and comparative reviews of identified strategies and explore potential implementation plans to offer suggestions on how North Carolina can meet its 2025 targets.

Team members will develop implementation strategies considering such factors as costs, what potential savings there might be and how the strategies would be implemented by providers. The team will work with members of the North Carolina Early Childhood Administration Credential to prioritize identified goals and metrics and review intervention strategies for specific targets. Team members will identify and solicit feedback from the stakeholders through focus groups and semistructured interviews.

Anticipated Outputs

Literature review paper; policy brief; peer-reviewed article; manuscript describing potential strategies on childhood development; presentations within Duke and at state conferences

Student Opportunities

Ideally, the team will include 8 undergraduates and 2 graduate students in the social sciences, School of Medicine and Sanford School of Public Policy. Composition of the selected participants will reflect the multidisciplinary ethos of Bass Connections and real-world approaches to complex healthcare and policy issues, which demands involvement and consideration of different disciplines, perspectives and experiences.

To achieve the project’s collaborative learning objectives, the team will have weekly meetings on Tuesdays from 11:45-1:00 p.m. at the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy (in the JB Duke Hotel) to discuss key concepts, tasks and progress as well as project concerns and issues. Team members will work as a group to perform the literature and systematic review, develop interview questions and conduct stakeholder interviews. They will synthesize available data and findings, draft papers and policy briefs and participate in stakeholder meetings and presentations.

The project will emphasize peer-interaction and learning, as well as engagement with faculty members and external stakeholders. Student participants will collaborate on all aspects of the project, which will facilitate shared ownership and accountability over the project, its main outcomes and work products.

Team members will have the opportunity to:

  • Develop qualitative and policy analysis research, oral and written communication, management skills
  • Interact with a wide variety of healthcare stakeholders
  • Contribute to every stage of the project, from drafting publications to delivering findings in both academic and applied settings
  • Experience translating research into complex health policies and educational issues
  • Work with state policymakers to directly impact policy development.

Where applicable, graduate students may have the opportunity to leverage the project to form the basis of a master’s thesis or project.


Fall 2019 – Summer 2020

  • Fall 2019: Conduct background literature review; identify and recruit key stakeholders; design and conduct interviews; summarize and discuss interview findings; develop targets for systematic review
  • Spring 2020: Draft systematic review; develop policy brief; present findings to council and find other dissemination opportunities
  • Summer 2020 (Optional): Revise research and policy memo addendum; work with stakeholders to develop specific intervention proposals


Independent study credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding available


Image: Toddlers at Black Mountain College, Summer 1948, shared by David Silver (Black Mountain College Collection, Western Regional Archive, Asheville, North Carolina), licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Toddlers at Black Mountain College, Summer 1948.

/faculty/staff Team Members

  • Deborah Best, School of Medicine-Pediatrics
  • Anna Gassman-Pines, Sanford School of Public Policy
  • Elizabeth Gifford, Sanford School of Public Policy*
  • Wendy Lam, Clinical and Translational Science Institute*
  • Gillian Sanders Schmidler, School of Medicine-Population Health Sciences|Margolis Center for Health Policy*
  • Corinna Sorenson, School of Medicine-Population Health Sciences|Margolis Center for Health Policy
  • Charlene Wong, School of Medicine-Pediatrics: Primary Care Pediatrics
  • Charles Wood, School of Medicine-Pediatrics: Primary Care Pediatrics

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Laura Benson, Partnership for Children
  • North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS)
  • Ben Rose, Durham Social Services