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Risk and Reach


The Risk and Reach project is the first attempt in Minnesota to describe indicators of early childhood development county by county.

Risk and Reach reviews 12 risk measures in areas related to economy, health, and family stability. It also identifies the reach in each county of 8 publicly-funded programs serving the early learning, health, and basic needs of young children. It is intended to provide useful county-level information about the development of young children in Minnesota to counties, agencies, and other stakeholders in order to strategically work together for the benefit of children and families.

Reporting information on the experiences of young children at the county level in Minnesota is useful because our state is one of 13 states that deliver services through a “state-supervised and county-administered” system. That is, state agencies set the rules, distribute state and federal funds through competitive or formula grants, and monitor county performance. The 87 Minnesota counties are responsible for delivering social services, public health, and other services.

Counties also raise additional revenue through property taxes, sales taxes, and fees. In counties with low property values, high levels of poverty, and limited economic activity, less revenue is available for service delivery, which contributes to uneven availability of programs and services across the state. By identifying and comparing indicators of risk and reach of services to support children and families at the county level, the report highlights regions of greatest need and opportunities for collaboration and integration of services across departments and geographic areas.

The information is based on the 2015 Minnesota Early Childhood Risk and Reach report. The report was produced by Wilder Research, the University of Minnesota (Harris Training Programs in the Center for Early Education and Development), and the Minnesota Departments of Education (MDE), Health (MDH), and Human Services (DHS).

These references were used in developing the report


Risk Indicators

The 12 risk indicators measure several dimensions of the potential risk to the well-being and quality of life for young children. The selected economic, family stability, and health indicators were chosen in consultation with the advisory committee.

Each risk indicator is presented as a standardized measure to allow county-by-county comparisons. For example, counties are not compared on the number of children living in poverty; instead they are compared based on the rate of poverty among children. Level of risk is based on a comparison of counties within Minnesota only. For every indicator, each county was assigned to one of four risk categories, based on comparisons to the statewide average. These comparisons were based on z-scores, which represent the number of standard deviations that an individual county-level indicator falls above or below the statewide average. Risk category assignments were made as follows:

  • Low risk: z-score of less than -1: (more than 1 standard deviation below the mean)
  • Low to moderate risk: z-score of -1 or more and less than 0 (less than 1 standard deviation below the mean)
  • Moderate to high risk: z-score of 0 to less than 1 (less than 1 standard deviation above the mean)
  • High risk: z-score of 1 or higher (more than 1 standard deviation above the mean)

Composite risk

There is also a composite or overall risk score for each county, which combines information on all of the risk indicators. (Four counties lacking data on four or more risk indicators are excluded). The composite sums the z-scores for each county across all individual risk indicators, calculates the average and standard deviation, and then assigns each county a new z-score based on this composite. Based on this composite score, counties were assigned to one of the four overall risk categories. Counties averaging at least one standard deviation above the mean on all indicators were assigned to the high risk category, and those averaging at least one standard deviation below the statewide average were assigned to the low risk category.

Reach indicators

Data for the reach indicators come from the Minnesota Departments of Education, Health, and Human Services. Specific notes on each indicator, including the benefits and eligibility of each program, and the details of how the extent of each reach indicator was calculated, are included in their respective sections. Similar to the risk indicators, each county was assigned to one of four reach categories, based on comparisons to the statewide average for every reach indicator.


Risk and reach indicators are limited to data available at the county level. The lack of an integrated statewide data system and standards for data collection and reporting limits the reporting to individual risk and program indicators without the ability to assess cumulative risk and the comprehensiveness of service reach. Calculating the number of children eligible to receive services (the denominators in the reach equations) is challenging because program eligibility requirements vary and are usually based on different levels of household income as well as other factors of need and circumstances, and county populations and income levels are based on multi-year samples. The results, while inexact, are still useful for comparisons across counties. The data provided by the state agencies are not always inclusive of all services or all populations served. For example, the Minnesota Family Investment Program does not include extended cases with caregivers with mental illness, developmental disabilities, and chemical health issues; the screening data are limited to education services and do not include developmental screening by health care providers. Tribal data, moreover, are not always included within state agency data. Finally, data are not routinely collected or available at the county level regarding potential protective factors for children, such as the extent to which they have secure attachment and nurturing relationships within their families.

Sponsors and advisors

The Minnesota Early Childhood Risk and Reach Report was funded by a grant from the Irving Harris Foundation to the University of Minnesota and inspired by the Louisiana Early Childhood Report.

Project Advisors
  • Jeanne Ayers, Minnesota Department of Health
  • Charlene Briner, Minnesota Department of Education
  • Bobbie Burnham, Minnesota Department of Education
  • Jeanne Dickhausen, Minnesota Department of Education
  • Glenace Edwall, Minnesota Department of Human Services
  • Craig Helmstetter, Wilder Research
  • Marcie Jeffreys, Governor’s Children’s Cabinet
  • Jim Koppel, Minnesota Department of Human Services
  • Jane Kretzmann, Project for Babies
  • Ellen Lepinski, University of Minnesota
  • Mary Orr, Minnesota Department of Human Services
  • Megan Waltz, Minnesota Department of Health
  • Carole Wilcox, Minnesota Department of Human Services
  • Catherine Wright, Minnesota Department of Human Services

Sponsored By

Minnesota Early Childhood Risk and Reach was developed by the University of Minnesota (Harris Training Programs in the Center for Early Education and Development) and Wilder Research in partnership with the Minnesota Departments of Education, Health, and Human Services.


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