An inside look at how Children Now approaches research
By Kelly Hardy
March 12, 2021
This January, Children Now released the 2021 California County Scorecard of Children’s Well-Being, the latest edition of a research product we have produced biannually since 2007. The Scorecard tracks key indicators of education, health, early childhood, and child welfare across all 58 California counties, over time, and by race/ethnicity. An interactive tool, it helps communities identify where there is room for improvement; encourages the discovery of best practices; fosters collaboration between communities; and supports community action to improve outcomes for kids.
The development of the Scorecard is an extensive undertaking, and our small but mighty research team spends months sourcing and analyzing data, and determining which indicators to include, before we even think about the design process. Because, let’s face it, while I personally think the Scorecard *looks* beautiful, it wouldn’t exist without the data.
So, let’s talk about data. Why data matters, how we use data, and why there’s always room for improvement.
Whether we want to admit it or not, we live in a data-driven world. Information is constantly being collected about us, our families, and our communities, and it has the power to be used in meaningful ways. When it comes to advocating for kids and making sure they all have the supports and services they need to grow up healthy and reach their full potential, data are critical. Without data, for example, we wouldn’t know that of the 14 million children and young people in California, 46% have one or more immigrant parents, 42% are growing up in families making less than two times the poverty level (which is approximately $53,000 for a family of four), and 71% identify as kids of color. Or that nearly 200,000 California students are experiencing homelessness. Data help us identify the problems that we may know exist anecdotally, and, in some cases, illuminate how severe they really are, so that we can work towards a solution.
When talking about data, we need to start with data integrity, which is a priority for our team. At Children Now, we use secondary sources, which means that we aren’t conducting our own research, but rather, tapping into existing research for the data points that we need. As such, it’s incredibly important that we protect the validity and accuracy of the data that we collect and subsequently publish. This includes accurately representing the data, and clearly citing the original source. We also explain any nuances in what we publish, such as exactly which races are included in the “other” category, or the precise wording of a survey question.
Once we know that the data we’re working with are the best available, then we need to consider how to present them in an accessible way. There are tons of data sources out there, and within those sources exist thousands of numbers that are difficult to understand without context. In the Scorecard, we highlight 39 indicators, which help provide meaning to the statistics and numbers we gather. Indicators are chosen based on the following criteria:
- Is there data available for all, or nearly all, of the state’s 58 counties, so that we can make comparisons across California?
- Can we break the indicator data out by race/ethnicity? If not, is there still a good reason for including the data?
- Does the indicator fit on a 100% scale (i.e we want 100% of kids to graduate from high school)?
This year we added 11 new data sets to the Scorecard, and we included additional years of data, so most indicators can be reviewed over four years. Unfortunately, there are too many topics that we want to cover in the Scorecard that don’t meet these criteria, which is why it’s so important that as a state, we prioritize better data collection, and strive for disaggregated data whenever possible. The old saying that “what gets measured gets managed” makes it abundantly clear why we need to push the state to do much more measuring of kids’ well-being.
We want members of the community to be able to use the Scorecard to see how their kids are doing, and if they can’t understand what the numbers mean, then the tool will be less helpful in making a positive impact. To that end, this year we’re making extra efforts to provide technical assistance to local partners so that they can use the numbers in a more meaningful way, whether that means developing an infographic, diving more deeply into a specific region or indicator, or providing additional context around where the data came from and why we included them.
A note on pandemic-related data
We know that everyone, our team included, is clamoring for data about what’s been happening to kids since the COVID-19 pandemic began last March. And while there isn’t too information much available at this point, the Scorecard includes a handful of indicators that incorporate data from the past year, specifically:
- Population numbers and race/ethnicity (2021)
- Student homelessness (2020)
- High school graduation for the general student population, for students with individualized education programs, and for students in foster care (2020)
- English Learner students gaining proficiency (2020)
- Voter registration among youth 18-25 (2020)
A couple of other points that we can share:
- Between March and November of last year, 2,030 licensed child care homes in California permanently closed — 4,400 temporarily shut their doors.
- And nationwide, we know that about 50% fewer (9.1 million) dental services were provided to kids between March – July 2020, compared to March – July 2019.
We’ve also included some data related to the pandemic in an infographic here, and will continue to share what we find. Based on the initial reports, the pandemic has impacted every aspect of children’s lives, and a lot of work is needed to counteract the ongoing negative effects of the past year.
Over the next few months, we’ll take a more in-depth look into some of the kids’ issues we’ve highlighted in this year’s Scorecard, focusing on regional differences, bright spots, and room for improvement. We’ll also talk to local partners who have used the tool in their communities. We hope you’ll follow along – posts will be published here on the blog, and we’ll continue the conversation on our Twitter and Instagram pages.