Incorporating Racial Equity in Data Sharing in Broward County, Florida

Posted October 4, 2019
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Broward County is using integrated data systems to improve child and family services

Florida’s Broward Coun­ty is devel­op­ing an approach to data that seeks to cor­rect the unin­tend­ed con­se­quences of exist­ing data-shar­ing sys­tems. The key dif­fer­ence? Incor­po­rat­ing equi­ty prin­ci­ples in sys­tem design to ensure that the peo­ple with the great­est stake are full part­ners in the process.

While the quest for good data has led to the devel­op­ment of increas­ing­ly robust sys­tems to facil­i­tate the secure flow of infor­ma­tion and gen­er­ate a clear­er pic­ture of how to help chil­dren, fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties, these sys­tems often fail to achieve progress for the kids and fam­i­lies whose data are being col­lect­ed, stored and shared — espe­cial­ly kids and fam­i­lies of col­or. Even more wor­ri­some, the data sys­tems can gen­er­ate effects that under­mine their good inten­tions, help­ing to repli­cate dis­par­i­ties rather than elim­i­nate them.

The expan­sion of data inte­gra­tion at the coun­ty and state lev­els has been pret­ty dra­mat­ic — about half of kids in the Unit­ed States now live in a juris­dic­tion with access to some kind of data-shar­ing sys­tem, and that’s like­ly to be clos­er to two-thirds in a few years,” says Chris Kings­ley, a senior asso­ciate who works on data strate­gies at the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, which is pro­vid­ing tech­ni­cal sup­port for the Broward Coun­ty effort. It mat­ters a lot that we get this right.”

The Children’s Ser­vices Coun­cil (CSC) of Broward Coun­ty — the local fund­ing author­i­ty that con­tracts with non­prof­its to pro­vide pre­ven­tion ser­vices for the county’s chil­dren and fam­i­lies — is spear­head­ing the county’s effort, which con­cen­trates on pro­mot­ing equi­ty by cre­at­ing a new struc­ture for data col­lec­tion, inter­pre­ta­tion and use.

Accord­ing to Sue Gal­lagher, chief inno­va­tion offi­cer at CSC, racism and racial bias have his­tor­i­cal­ly influ­enced fun­da­men­tal deci­sions in data exchange, from what ques­tions are asked to how answers are inter­pret­ed. The result­ing top-down dynam­ic sep­a­rates researchers and pro­fes­sion­al helpers from peo­ple receiv­ing ser­vices, large­ly along a racial divide.

To counter the effects of struc­tur­al racism in data shar­ing, CSC devel­oped the Build­ing Pow­er and Equi­ty Togeth­er (BPET) project. The ini­tia­tive is designed to equi­tably inte­grate infor­ma­tion among the child wel­fare, behav­ioral health and juve­nile jus­tice sys­tems, the school dis­trict, CSC, youth and the community.

The BPET approach start­ed with edu­ca­tion. Since 2016, more than 3,000 non­prof­it staffers and com­mu­ni­ty part­ners have been trained with a cur­ricu­lum on struc­tur­al racism, the local his­to­ry of racism and implic­it racial bias. A 2018 pilot brought togeth­er 15 young peo­ple involved in sys­tems with 25 agency staff to joint­ly pro­duce data process­es and tools that led to pol­i­cy and sys­tem reform recommendations.

CSC’s next step is to build the data sys­tem struc­ture, using three key equi­ty components:

  1. a gov­er­nance struc­ture that includes youth and com­mu­ni­ty advi­sors, built through par­tic­i­pa­to­ry action research and com­mu­ni­ty organizing;
  2. a new mes­sage that shar­ing data is also about shar­ing pow­er and see­ing each oth­er as part­ners with assets and exper­tise, with gov­ern­ment work­ers and the peo­ple they serve cre­at­ing poli­cies and prac­tices togeth­er; and
  3. inclu­sive legal agree­ments and busi­ness rules, allow­ing every­one involved to under­stand the stakes and their role in the process.

In fine-tun­ing the project details, CSC has received assis­tance from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Pennsylvania’s Action­able Intel­li­gence for Social Pol­i­cy (AISP), a Casey grantee and nation­al ini­tia­tive that sup­ports the devel­op­ment of data-shar­ing sys­tems to guide pol­i­cy and plan­ning. Amy Hawn Nel­son, AISP’s direc­tor of train­ing and tech­ni­cal assis­tance, has been watch­ing the progress in Broward Coun­ty with a close eye — and con­sid­er­able enthusiasm.

Data shar­ing is, above all, a rela­tion­al activ­i­ty, rather than tech­ni­cal,” says Nel­son, and rela­tion­ships are at the heart of what CSC is doing. From soup to nuts, their work is infused with equi­ty, inclu­sion and acces­si­bil­i­ty. They’re build­ing a data-shar­ing sys­tem that we expect will be a mod­el for juris­dic­tions all over the nation.”

Learn more about how data sys­tems can pro­vide insights to help chil­dren and families

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