Scotland needs to ‘do data differently’ to understand challenges for families - Fiona Duncan
It doesn’t say whether our children are loved, happy or feel safe. It doesn’t tell us if their rights are championed and upheld. It doesn’t measure what children and families think matters. It doesn’t routinely measure the experiences of those the system impacts.
In fact, information on social demographics is so poor it is often not possible to identify care experienced people within routinely collected data. Yet it is the main method used to know whether things are working, or not. I wonder if this is partly because “data” as a concept can feel alienating, complicated and confusing – only to be handled by experts and never by “laypeople”.
Regardless of whether it comes in quantitative forms like numbers, or qualitative forms like words, data is really just information. In the context of the care review, information about the lives of children and families. Which brings me to data as a solution.
To know whether it is keeping the promise made to its children and families, Scotland needs data. That data must be firmly focused on the experiences of children and families in and around the care system and the outcomes that follow… exactly the sort of data, or information, family and friends pay attention to.
This is about more than the orbit of Scotland’s care system. In a recent blog on the need for radical action on data, Gemma Diamond, Audit Director of Audit Scotland said there was a need to: “…quickly focus limited resources on the preventative measures (and data) needed to tackle Scotland’s biggest problems.”
Clearly there is a need to re-focus resources on preventative spending, but the challenges with data collection, access and sharing act as barriers to service delivery.
This is why one of The Promise Scotland’s key change projects is “Doing Data Differently”. Scotland needs data that allows us to see the whole child, and their family, within a meaningful context. This requires a culture that seeks out and listens to the experiences of children and families, and then treats that information as what matters most.
There isn’t currently a shared understanding or way of finding out what information is being captured, so to help change this, The Promise Scotland is creating a data map. The data map will help organisations and individuals understand what is currently collected about issues that directly and indirectly impact children, young people and their families. It will help Scotland understand what data sources exist, identify gaps and support people to make better use of what is already there.
On occasion I have heard arguments about the need for targets to drive delivery. This is rooted in an impatience that I share to see rapid and measurable progress. However, if targets are rooted in inadequate systems of data collection, then there’s a risk of making a flawed system move faster, rather than the structural reforms needed to make it actually work in the interests of children and families.
Some evidence will always elude. We don't fully understand how the Great Pyramids were constructed, but we can be pretty confident they weren’t built as tall as possible, as quickly as possible. They are a reminder that to create something that will endure, it needs a solid and comprehensive base.
Work to address challenges in the data picture for Scotland's care system may not yet be fully understood, but it is a key block in the foundations on which Scotland will #KeepThePromise.
Fiona Duncan is Chair of The Promise, the body responsible for ensuring the findings of the Independent Care Review are implemented
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