Supporting our families means understanding them and the inequalities they face

Shaneka Foster, Inequalities Senior Data Analyst, explains how LEAP is striving to make services as inclusive as possible so they appeal to all eligible families and in doing so, reduce inequalities.

Existing inequalities have been exacerbated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is even more important to ensure we are reaching all communities and providing a platform for voices to be heard, as well as creating and running services which families feel comfortable attending.

LEAP is developing a statement of intent; exploring equality, diversity and inclusion of our work within the community, our workforce and our relationship with partners.

We have also increased our capacity to analyse data, specifically through the lens of equality. It will enable us to have a greater understanding of our local population and our families’ views on diversity. This means we have a greater chance of ensuring families feel included, and can adapt services where possible from our findings, allowing us to reach the most disadvantaged families.

LEAP’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI)

To make sure that we embed EDI throughout all our work, we have established an equality, diversity, and inclusion group. Staff from all teams meet monthly to share and discuss relevant pieces of work.

The group is developing a statement of intent which we want to make available to our partners and families, and the wider public. We will be explicit about how elements of the programme come together to feed into our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion goals and how we are accountable as a team.

Making our data work harder

Collecting, analysing, and presenting data is one of the ways in which we can use evidence to understand our local populations. But it does come with challenges and it is important to acknowledge these limitations.

It is not uncommon for data collection around populations to be in the format of questions with categories, as can be seen in the 2021 census.

This results in categories, such as ‘other’ for ethnicity, or smaller categories being grouped together to minimise the risk of individuals being identified. For example, if five people were from a particular demographic of interest, we would have to carefully present their data so that their answer didn’t inadvertently reveal other attributes.

This doesn’t give us an accurate picture our of community. It limits opportunities to identify under-represented families. To avoid presenting small numbers, typically, the categories with the greatest proportion of people are presented in the analysis. For example, imagine three groups make up 70% of the data, with the other 30% being made up of 12 groups. The analysis is likely to highlight those three groups, while combining the remaining 12 under “other”. The data enables us to reach a larger number of families, but it risks telling us little about under-represented groups.

Grouping categories like ethnicity into higher level categories (Asian, Black, Mixed, Other, and White) as opposed to the full list of 18 classifications, limits our ability to widely consider cultural differences and explore new avenues of promoting our services. It also limits our ability to compare datasets effectively to identify which groups we may not be reaching. Where possible, we will aim to present services data with the full breakdown of ethnicities, so they are able to understand the range of potential cultural differences for families attending their services.

The importance of anecdotal experiences within the community, or qualitative research helps to fill gaps and create a full picture. For example, even without looking at data, it is well known that we have a community of Portuguese families in one of our wards.

Taking an evidence-based approach

With the additional capacity for analysis, we will develop a more structured approach to how we use our data. For example, through regular quarterly reports for each service, and further reporting to link back to how we are making change happen in our communities.

Although the new way of reporting is in its infancy, we hope this will allow services to be able to make changes based on more concrete evidence.

The statement of intent we develop will allow us to be accountable for all our work across LEAP and keep us on track without our intended aim of reducing inequalities within the community.

About A Better Start

A Better Start is a ten-year (2015-2025), £215 million programme set-up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK. Five A Better Start partnerships based in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham and Southend are supporting families to give their babies and very young children the best possible start in life. Working with local parents, the A Better Start partnerships are developing and testing ways to improve their children’s diet and nutrition, social and emotional development, and speech, language and communication.

The work of the programme is grounded in scientific evidence and research. A Better Start is place-based and enabling systems change. It aims to improve the way that organisations work together and with families to shift attitudes and spending towards preventing problems that can start in early life. It is one of five major programmes set up by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and learn from new approaches to designing services which aim to make people’s lives healthier and happier

The National Children’s Bureau is coordinating an ambitious programme of shared learning for A Better Start, disseminating the partnerships’ experiences in creating innovative services far and wide, so that others working in early childhood development or place-based systems change can benefit.

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