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Using Data to Power Social Change



  • Reliable data, research and expert analysis have the power to improve and even save lives. 
  • Philanthropies can provide credible knowledge to inform public policies. 
  • Stories can help bring data to life and help policymakers connect with an issue. 

The Annie E. Casey Foundation publishes the KIDS COUNT Data Book each year to shine a spotlight on the challenges children face while trying to grow up healthy, well-educated, financially secure, and connected to strong families and communities.

KIDS COUNT aims its message at local, state, and national policymakers who have the responsibility to sculpt a brighter future for kids with the decisions they make. Many things about child well-being have become clear in 25 years of publishing the Data Book, but one particular finding stands out: good policies have the power to improve the lives of disadvantaged kids – and even save them.

It is encouraging when governors, legislators, and other decision makers use reliable data, research, and expert analysis to find solutions that make a measurable difference for children.

Philanthropies such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and many others have provided credible knowledge to inform public policies that moved the dial in the right direction for many of America’s children in a profound way over the years.

Policies that now seem like no-brainers – seat belt and bicycle helmet laws, for example – protect kids from traumatic head trauma and death every day. Legislative changes have resulted in more children attending preschool than in the past, fewer children failing to meet proficiency standards in reading by fourth grade and in math by eighth grade, and a higher percentage of young people graduating from high school on time.

[pullquote1 align=”center” textColor=”#000000″]Good policies have the power to improve the lives of disadvantaged kids – and even save them.[/pullquote1]

In addition, access to health care has improved considerably since passage of the State Child Health Insurance Program. The nation’s teenage pregnancy rate is at a historic low. And, as we reported in a KIDS COUNT Data Snapshot last year, the youth incarceration rate reached a 35-year low in 2010.

Changes like those do not happen by coincidence. When state and federal governments find answers that benefit kids, it happens because they adopt policies and practices that are based on reliable data, good research, and the innovation of solutions that prove to be effective.

Often, policymakers learn about effective solutions through national and local advocacy efforts. Since our KIDS COUNT project began, we have been supporting a network of advocacy organizations in every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands who reach elected representatives and the media in their communities. These grantees are determined leaders who make an impact in every state capital.

While we are inspired by the successes that have made life better for kids in some areas, many lingering challenges remain, and some have gotten worse. Since we published our first KIDS COUNT Data Book 25 years ago in 1990, some child well-being indicators have gone in the wrong direction. Child poverty continues to impede the path to opportunity for children. Although the percentage of children living in poor households dropped from 18 to 16 percent from 1990 to 2000, that number has shot back up again and was at 23 percent in this year’s Data Book.

[pullquote1 align=”center” textColor=”#000000″]Changes… do not happen by coincidence.[/pullquote1]

In addition, while only 25 percent of children lived in single-parent households when we reported the figures in 1990, that figure has soared to 35 percent in this year’s Data Book. Also disturbing, more children are living in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty that often lack the kinds of schools, safe places to play, and resources that put and keep kids on a positive path.

The successes this nation has produced in some areas of child well-being convinces me that we can do better in every area. So we will continue publishing the KIDS COUNT Data Book and work with government, private, philanthropic, and other nonprofit organizations to lead with data and tell decision-makers the stories behind the numbers.

Yes, we can lift kids out of poverty, ensure that they grow up in stable families and resource-rich communities, and build on the improvements in education and health care. And it doesn’t have to take another 25 years.

Lisa Hamilton is Vice President for External Affairs at The Annie E. Casey Foundation. You can follow the foundation on Twitter @AECFNews.


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