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Using Publicly Collected Data to Support the Service Needs of Low-Income Hispanic Children and Families

From unlocking the secrets of human genomes to predicting areas where crime is likely to occur, “big data” holds the potential to address some of the world’s most complex challenges.  But data alone is not the solution.  A system to link, organize, and analyze data is a critical component in transforming big data from a bunch of numbers, characters, or percentages into actionable information.   
Government public assistance, social service, health, and education programs each must collect a tremendous amount of information on children and families as part of their day-to-day operations.
This includes:
  • Individual demographic characteristics;
  • The timing, type, and intensity of services received; and
  • Indicators of individual well-being for families, parents, and children.
Data collected by public service agencies can provide useful information on the reach and effectiveness of individual programs. This data, when combined from multiple sources, can provide more detailed portraits of family and community life that to inform policy and improve service delivery. This is referred to as Integrated Data Systems (IDS).
In its latest research brief, the National Research Center on Hispanic Children and Families, launched by Abt Global, Child Trends, and university partners (University of Maryland-College Park, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and the Institute for Human Development and Social Change at New York University), explores how IDS can increase our knowledge and inform strategies to respond to the service needs of low-income Hispanic children and families. The brief provides a primer on integrated data and a discussion of some of the specific questions that Hispanic-focused researchers might explore using IDS.
IDS could provide a comprehensive, timely, and cost-effective mechanism for examining these critical questions, given that much of the data already has been collected. Yet for IDS to best support service delivery and programing for low-income Hispanic children and families, the information from the individual data systems must include relevant information that reflects the considerable diversity of the Hispanic population.
The term “Hispanic” encompasses a diverse array of families with different countries of origin, time in the United States, English language proficiency, among other characteristics. This information is not always collected as part of national surveys. The same is true of the administrative data collected by various government assistance programs.  Agencies need to begin collecting more detailed data on the diversity of Hispanic families for IDS research to best support a growing understanding of low-income Hispanic children and families.
Authors Dr. Michael López and Dr. Todd Grindal discuss big data’s potential impact on low-income Hispanic children and families in this National Research Center blog entry.
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