North Carolina Early Childhood Action Plan: Evidence-based Policy Solutions (2021-2022)


In February 2019, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services released an Early Childhood Action Plan that documents ten goals related to improving outcomes for young children. The plan addresses physical health, social and emotional well-being, cognitive development, learning competencies and social environments. 

While the research and evidence base available to policymakers for informing effective interventions is substantial, translation of research into practice has been limited. Innovative, practical and evidence-based policy solutions targeting the Early Childhood Action Plan’s identified goals are needed.

Project Description

This project aims to combine scientific and practical knowledge to inform North Carolina’s Early Childhood Councils on how the state can achieve and track its policy goals. The 2019-2020 team focused on researching one of the goals of the Early Childhood Action Plan that seeks to improve children’s social-emotional health and resilience. The 2020-2021 team’s research focused on food insecurity by collaborating with North Carolina Integrated Care for Kids (InCK) to decrease the percentage of children across the state living in food-insecure homes. 

The 2021-2022 team will focus on the goal of housing, specifically the intersections of structural racism, housing policy and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The team will also build on last year’s work by completing implementation research to inform policymakers and InCK.

Team members will conduct a review of factors influencing children’s health and development indicators, develop policy strategies that could be implemented by the state and explore potential barriers and facilitators to implementing such strategies. They will conduct a systematic review of the empirical literature, compile a review of policies and practices in North Carolina and other states and conduct interviews with key stakeholders. The team will identify and solicit feedback from stakeholders about identified target indicators and potential interventions through focus groups and semistructured interviews.

Learn more about this project team by viewing the team's video.

Anticipated Outputs

Literature review paper; policy brief; peer-reviewed journal article; conference presentations

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this project team will include 3 graduate students and 8 undergraduate students from all majors, with a focus on social and natural sciences, medicine and public policy. Team members will develop skills in qualitative and policy analysis research, oral and written communication and project management. 

Student participants will contribute to every stage of the research project, from its design to drafting publications to delivering findings in both academic and applied settings. Graduate students can use the collected data to develop a thesis or an individual project.

Participants will work as a group to perform the literature and systematic review, develop interview questions and conduct stakeholder interviews, synthesize available data and findings, draft papers and policy briefs and participate in stakeholder meetings and presentations. Team members will meet weekly to discuss project tasks and troubleshoot concerns and issues. The team will employ a collaborative, multilearner approach to project management, with a team leader and a graduate student project manager working together to ensure that the project runs smoothly, meets deadlines and achieves its goals. 

Participants will have the opportunity to engage with stakeholders from the North Carolina Department of Human Services and ask questions regarding the barriers that currently exist regarding implementing data-driven policies. Team members will receive feedback on their policies from local partners, such as Durham Social Services, Durham’s Partnership for Children, Durham County Government and local pediatricians who serve families with young children. 

Students would have the opportunity to work on the project during an optional summer component in 2021 or 2022. Students would work for 10 weeks (40 hours per week) during the summer and participate in the established Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy summer internship program.

A graduate student will be selected to serve as project manager.


Summer 2021 – Summer 2022

  • Summer 2021 (optional): Work with InCK and DHHS to identify key housing questions
  • Fall 2021: Initiate project; conduct background literature review; identify and recruit key stakeholders; design and conduct interviews; summarize and discuss interview findings; develop targets for systematic review
  • Spring 2022: Draft systematic review; develop policy briefs; present findings to the Council and other dissemination opportunities
  • Summer 2022 (optional): Revise research and policy memos; work with NC stakeholders to develop specific intervention proposals


Academic credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding available

See earlier related team, NC Early Childhood Action Plan: Achieving Goals with Innovative, Evidence-based Policy Solutions (2020-2021).


Image: Early Childhood Action Plan, courtesy of the 2019-2020 project team

Early Childhood Action Plan.

Team Leaders

  • Rushina Cholera, School of Medicine-Pediatrics: Primary Care Pediatrics
  • Michelle Franklin, Margolis Center for Health Policy
  • Elizabeth Gifford, Sanford School of Public Policy-Center for Child and Family Policy
  • K.K. (Wendy) Lam, School of Medicine
  • Gillian Sanders Schmidler, School of Medicine-Population Health Sciences|Margolis Center for Health Policy

/graduate Team Members

  • Laura Stilwell, Public Policy Studies-PHD

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Ainsley Buck, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Stephanie Green, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Sophie Johnson
  • Ruthie Kesri
  • Kyungyong Lim
  • Juliana Mayer, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Darshan Vijaykumar

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Sarah Allin, Population Health Management Office
  • Anna Gassman-Pines, Sanford School of Public 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
  • Drew Cummings, Durham County Government, Office of the County Manager
  • Ben Rose, Durham County Department of Social Services
  • Karina Vasudeva, Undergraduate Student, UNC-Chapel Hill