A good practice case study of the collection and use of equality data: Scottish Children's Reporter Administration
Jennifer Waterton, Dawn Griesbach, Alison Platts (Jennifer Waterton Consultancy)
The Scottish Government is committed to addressing inequality in Scotland. Scotland's Equality Evidence Strategy 2017–21 set out a vision for a more wide-ranging and robust equality evidence base, to enable policy makers to develop sound, inclusive policy.
There are many costs and challenges to collecting, analysing and reporting equality data and, despite improvements in recent years, significant gaps remain in Scotland's equality evidence base. To address this, the Scottish Government launched the Equality Data Improvement Programme in April 2021. This programme builds on research which explored the collection of equality and socio-economic disadvantage data by Scottish public sector bodies. The 27 organisations who took part in this research faced various barriers and challenges in this area of work, but they also identified factors that helped support the collection and use of high-quality equality data.
This document presents one of a series of six case studies produced to complement this research. The case studies aim to support the sharing of good practice by showing how different organisations have approached collecting and using equality data to provide better services and better outcomes for their ‘customers'. Each of the case studies illustrates different aspects of practice across the public sector in Scotland. They do not provide a comprehensive picture of the work undertaken by organisations; rather they illustrate some of their positive actions in collecting, using and improving equality data.
Scottish Children's Reporter Administration...
- Has an Inclusion and Diversity Steering Group (previously its Equality Network) which plays an important role in driving the improvement of equality data in the organisation.
- Has made clear public commitments within its equality outcomes (2020/21 and 2021/22) to improving the collection of equality data.
- Has introduced a case management system which records relevant equality data in a systematic way and allows analysis and reporting to be carried out.
- Uses Census-based categories and definitions for recording equality data to allow comparison with other population-level datasets.
- Is developing guidance and providing training to ensure their staff record good quality equality data within the case management system, and understand the importance of doing so.
- Will work with partner agencies locally to promote good data collection and address data gathering issues.
About the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration
The Scottish Children's Reporter Administration (SCRA) is a national statutory body which facilitates the work of Children's Reporters and Children's Hearings. SCRA's role includes:
- Receiving referrals for children/young people who may be at risk, and ensuring that other public agencies carry out necessary enquiries and assessments.
- Making decisions on referring a child/young person to a Children's Hearing, drafting the grounds for the Hearing, and arranging for Hearings to take place.
- Ensuring fair process at Hearings, establishing grounds of referral in court where these are contested, and defending decisions which are subject to appeal.
‘Equality, diversity and inclusion' is one of the themes underpinning SCRA's corporate plan for 2020–2023, which has the aim of delivering a service that will be ‘equally accessible to all, including people with protected characteristics to ensure it meets everyone's individual needs and rights'. Further, SCRA's Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Mainstreaming Report 2020/21 makes a commitment to ensuring equality becomes a fundamental part of all SCRA's work and is considered within the wider ‘rights' agenda established by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the European Convention on Human Rights. This commitment has been further mainstreamed within SCRA's new Rights, Inclusion and Corporate Parenting Strategy (forthcoming, 2021) and will be key in responding to The Promise, the initiative set up to drive change in Scotland for children and young people involved in the care system in the wake of the Independent Care Review.
The data collections
The SCRA case management system (CMS) holds information about every child referred to the Children's Reporter. Following the introduction of a new bespoke system in 2020/21, SCRA now records information about some protected characteristics in a systematic way. Data are collected on age (date of birth), sex, disability (including learning disability), ethnicity, religion and gender identity (if different to sex). The data collected are limited to that deemed relevant to providing an appropriate service to, and protecting the rights of, children referred to SCRA. The new CMS uses Census-based questions and response options with the aim, over time, of achieving robust data that allow comparison with the wider population.
Case files are created by SCRA. Information is provided by third parties (via multi-agency or police referral reports), and input by SCRA locality staff – although some information (such as some police referrals) is input directly by partner organisations on a ‘system to system' basis, with this type of process expected to increase in the future.
A form sets out the minimum dataset requested by SCRA as part of the referral process – this includes equality data (as specified above). However, SCRA's priority is the safety and wellbeing of children, and decision-making would never be delayed because of incomplete data which was not directly relevant to the intervention into the child's life.
Good practice in the collection and use of equality data
SCRA's commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is embedded in the organisation. Following the introduction of the Equality Act 2010, SCRA set up an Equality Network with senior, board-level and cross-organisational membership; and created an ‘Equalities Lead'. Since 2019, SCRA has had a dedicated Inclusion and Diversity Manager post. As part of its commitment to EDI, SCRA is working to improve its equality data collection. Significantly, this has involved a move to a more systematic approach to capturing, recording and storing equality data for children within the new CMS – with more information held in a searchable and analysable form, rather than within individual case files as it previously had been. This will enable a greater understanding of the needs of children, support data-led service improvement, and thus ensure a more sensitive needs-based service for all.
As a sign of its commitment, SCRA's Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Outcomes for both 2021/21 and 2021/22 included outcomes related to improving equality data for all referrals. SCRA's 2020/21 outcomes included the commitment to capture relevant protected characteristic data (e.g. gender identity, ethnicity, religion, age, disability) within its new CMS (SCRA additionally committed to recording first language, if not English). Its subsequent outcomes for 2021/22 included the commitment to produce guidance on the recording – and the reason for recording – of relevant protected characteristic data.
These outcomes have been – and are being – taken forward through organisation-wide activity, involving strategic leadership and relevant specialist staff. SCRA has an active Inclusion and Diversity Steering Group (previously its Equalities Network), chaired by the Head of HR and with head office and operational representation, which has played an important part in driving improvement of equality data in the organisation. During the development of the new CMS, this group was clear that the new system should be designed to collect good quality equality data. SCRA's Inclusion and Diversity Manager and Gender Group Lead worked alongside the Digital Team to ensure the data collected by the system were appropriate, and legally compliant. Consultation with the Information and Research Team and Data Manager ensured that data were gathered in a way that would allow population-wide comparison (by basing the data items and options included in the new CMS on questions used in the Census), and meet the needs of SCRA's statistical reporting.
Additionally, SCRA has an outward-looking, sector-wide perspective on equality data:
- SCRA is involved in a number of multi-agency working groups and projects that have the aim of examining and improving equality data as well as learning from equality data and implementing practice improvement – for example, the Cross Justice Working Group on Race Data and Evidence is working to improve the recording of race and ethnicity data across the justice sector.
- SCRA is keen to learn from other organisations and partners, and is an active member of the Employers' Network for Equality and Inclusion (ENEI) and the Non-Departmental Public Bodies (NDPB) Equality Forum which provide an opportunity for sharing good practice in relation to equality issues.
Impacts of equality data collection
The SCRA is a rights-driven organisation. Good quality equality data help to ensure that the rights of children and families are protected and promoted and that they are provided with a sensitive needs-driven service when they are involved in Children's Hearings – collectively and individually. In particular:
- Analysis of robust and accurate equality data, at an aggregate level, supports SCRA's corporate planning processes and helps determine its strategic inclusion and diversity objectives. As the equality data held by the organisation improve over time as the new CMS ‘beds in', it is expected that a regular reporting cycle – at national, locality and team level – will be established, and that data will be used to inform strategic and operational work and priorities, and to support the completion of Equality and Human Rights Impact Assessments.
- SCRA's research programme draws on case file data. The new CMS will, in time, improve the efficiency of SCRA's research efforts in terms of sampling and case analysis, as it will be possible to request data reports based on equality data, thus avoiding the need to manually extract data from individual case files.
- At an operational level, equality data allow SCRA to be proactive in putting arrangements in place to meet the needs of individual children (and families) who are referred to the service and are required to attend hearings.
Spotlight: Meeting the needs of children attending a Children's Hearing
SCRA will use the improved equality data from the CMS to ensure that it meets the needs of all children attending a Children's Hearing. It is envisaged that equality data will be used by the Property Strategy Team to inform their hearing room improvements work to ensure that suitable facilities are provided for disabled children. In addition, the data will support staff in locality teams to take a proactive approach in, for example, the sensitive scheduling of hearings to avoid religious festivals and holidays, or in addressing children using preferred names / pronouns.
SCRA is aware that the data they store and report on are only as good as the data given to them by their partners, and input by SCRA staff. Thus, the next steps for SCRA include a number of initiatives designed to support the provision and recording of good quality, consistent equality data. For example:
- SCRA is developing Equality Data Recording Guidance and providing training for its own staff on the reasons for, and importance of, collecting equality data, how to do so accurately and how to challenge and / or follow up with partner organisations when requested data are not provided.
- SCRA will work with partners via locality offices to promote good (accurate and complete) data collection and address data gathering issues. Locality teams will use existing partnership working arrangements and multi-agency groups to share mechanisms for improving equality data gathering agreed at national level (e.g. by the Children's Hearings Improvement Partnership (CHIP)).
- Work is currently underway to pilot and evaluate a short social work report for Children's Hearings that could provide a model for the national standardisation of information. This report will capture the same equality data that SCRA record on its CMS to improve the accuracy of data provided to SCRA. It is anticipated that this work will feed into CHIP and be shared with all partner agencies.
- As equality data improve, SCRA will share data with partner agencies (e.g. Police Scotland, local authorities) to enable a system-wide approach to service improvement. SCRA will use equality data to inform strategic and operational planning to ensure it is delivering the best possible service to children in a way that best suits their needs.
More widely, SCRA's 2021 organisation-wide Data Project will also have relevance for the collection and use of equality data. The project aims to map information held by SCRA and identify gaps. It will also consider issues relating to data reporting, privacy and ownership, and potential data linkage.
Contact for further information
SCRA's Inclusion and Diversity Manager: email@example.com
The Scottish Government Equality Data Improvement Programme
The Scottish Government launched its Equality Data Improvement Programme in April 2021. The first phase of the programme, which will run from April 2021 to December 2022, aims to raise awareness across the public sector of why equality data are needed, and how these data can be used to improve policy-making and outcomes.
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