9, No. 4
Data and Child
a woman walks down the beach one morning, she notices the sand is
littered with starfish washed up by a storm the night before. Then
she sees a child picking the starfish up and throwing them back
into the sea.
the child explains what she is doing the woman replies, You
cant make a difference. There are too many starfish!
child throws another starfish into the waves, turns to the woman
and says, I made a difference for that one.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
workers and supervisors like this story because it resonates with
the way they see their work. As a group, they are people who believe
it is possible to make a difference in the world. Whats more,
they believe that human interaction is the way to do it. They want
to get out there, in person, and make that difference for children
and their families.
it is this very same desire to help others that causes many child
welfare professionals to hesitate at the idea of working with data.
For them, data is about numbers and computers, not helping people.
associate data with their work at all, often it is connected with
daysheets and documentation, which take up lots of timetime
most workers would rather spend serving families.
the reaction of the child in the story if you required her, in between
rescues, to fill out forms on each starfish and youll understand
how some people in child welfare feel about data.
these sentiments, few would deny that data is important.
in a system where, at the national, state, and local levels, the
emphasis is increasingly on accountability and outcomes. Every day,
legislators, advocates, and agency administrators use data to help
them set priorities and guide interventions. From their perspective,
data is an essential part of doing good because it helps us understand
whether we are fulfilling our mission and meeting our goals.
of Practice Notes will describe the advantages of seeing
data in this light. Specifically, we will explore ways data can
be used to fine-tune the interventions you are making in your community,
look at effective strategies for communicating with staff about
performance outcomes, and discuss why the work you already do with
data is so important.
process, data may lose some of the negative associations it has
for you as a child welfare worker or supervisor. Indeed, we hope
that eventually you will come to see data in the same way you see
the other items in your professional repertoireas a familiar
tool you can use to make a difference for families.