Using data to drive change: String together enough neighborhoods and you move a county. Solve a few counties and you change a state.

Communities of Hope start with bold local leaders who share a common sense of purpose and direction, such as the efforts in Cities United and Paintsville. But when it comes to tackling deep-seated challenges, good intentions aren’t enough. We need a new set of tools to get the work done, and this is where data comes in.

Most Americans would agree that a child’s ZIP code shouldn’t determine her chance to succeed. Yet we know that living in certain ZIP codes can impact the likelihood of future success. Growing up in specific ZIP codes can significantly increase the risk of abuse and neglect, of dropping out of school, of becoming homeless, of going to jail or of struggling to make ends meet as an adult.

There are approximately 42,000 ZIP codes in America, and we have volumes of data on every one of them – information that can help identify some of the most pressing challenges faced by children and families.

Think of data as a telescope. The more you zoom in, the more detailed images become. Something that looked smooth and featureless to the naked eye might, under magnification, reveal tall ridges and deep valleys. With each tighter focus, the resolution increases our knowledge of the landscape.

But too often, data is presented at a resolution that obscures as much as it enlightens. For example, reports of spiking child abuse and neglect cases in a particular state might indicate a problem, but the numbers don’t tell us enough unless we focus more closely.

Put the same data at a higher resolution and you might find that only a handful of counties account for 75 percent of the spike. Turn the knob further and you might then see that a handful of ZIP codes within those counties contain the bulk of the abuse reports. Move closer and you see that specific blocks within these ZIP codes face the most challenges.

When the resolution becomes clearest you have the ability to more effectively target your efforts.

ZIP code and other geographic-based data help break down larger areas to the community level. It is at that level where we can better define and start to solve our problems. String together enough neighborhoods and you move a county. Solve a few counties and you change a state.

More and more, efforts to build Communities of Hope are relying on ZIP code and other targeted geographic data to help define and direct their work. They are producing some promising results.

String together enough neighborhoods and you move a county. Solve a few counties and you change a state.

Take Tennessee. The state Department of Children’s Service created an initiative called In Home Tennessee to better prevent child abuse and neglect. The initiative adopted many elements of collective impact. It helped develop community-based partnerships around a common agenda to improve the safety and success of children who were at the greatest risk. As part of In Home Tennessee, local, cross-functional teams brought together nonprofits, schools, faith communities and others to develop measurable strategies to make progress toward their goals.

Initially, the Nashville team struggled to develop an effective strategy to prevent abuse and neglect. Then one of the advocates had an idea: Let’s look at the child welfare data at a ZIP code level.

FOCUSING the view to Zip Code Level

ZIP codes help to break down larger geographic areas to a more neighborhood level. And it is at that level we can more effectively define – and address – challenges.
View Infographic
ZIP codes help to break down larger geographic areas to a more neighborhood level. And it is at that level we can more effectively define – and address – challenges.

With this data in hand, the team was able to ask a key question: Are the neighborhoods where the biggest challenges exist the same neighborhoods where appropriate services are available?

The data held the answer. First, it showed that the neighborhoods with the highest reported rates of child abuse and neglect were the same neighborhoods that showed high rates of truancy and parental incarceration.

The numbers also revealed that the types of parenting classes, counseling and other support services that can help strengthen families often weren’t located in the neighborhoods where they were most needed.

Georgianna Hooker, a former Nashville child welfare worker who leads the nonprofit, G Paradigms, said it was vital to start geographic coordination between the communities in need and the services that can help.

So that is what the local leaders did. After a series of meetings in the city’s hardest-hit neighborhoods, several family organizations collaborated to bring more appropriate parenting classes and other support services to the areas of critical need.

Measurable outcomes

The role of data in building a Community of Hope goes beyond bringing greater resolution to the problem: it is also the underpinning of improving conditions in a community.

In addition to broad-based coalitions working together and strong leadership, success also depends on another vital component: measurable goals.

Communities of Hope share this important trait. They have clearly defined goals and can measure progress.

Why is this so important? Because a clear set of measurable goals allows a community to confirm and sustain progress.

The role of data in building a Community of Hope goes beyond bringing greater resolution to the problem: it is also the underpinning of improving conditions in a community.

Think of a football game. The goal is obvious: Score touchdowns. But the game only works with yard markers, boundaries, a goal line, scoreboard, timeouts and coaches.

In a Community of Hope, data gives a community its playing field, markers and score. It shows whether a particular strategy is working or not. It is a map that validates an existing direction or one that indicates a necessary change in course.

Making hope happen within Wake County’s ZIP codes
RUNTIME: 25:18
Related video: Casey Family Programs President and CEO William C. Bell discusses data-based intervention in his 2013 speech, “Making Hope Happen Within Wake County’s Zip Codes.”
RUNTIME: 25:18
Related video: Casey Family Programs President and CEO William C. Bell discusses data-based intervention in his 2013 speech, “Making Hope Happen Within Wake County’s Zip Codes.”
Consider Jacksonville, Fla., where child welfare leaders examined ZIP code-based data – primarily focused on foster care – and found a disconnect between the areas with the greatest need and the areas with available services.

“Early on, we identified the ZIP codes that were driving (child) removal rates,” said Lee Kaywork, chief executive officer of Family Support Services of North Florida. “We were able to prioritize the top ZIP codes.”

From this analysis, the Schell-Sweet Center was born, right in the heart of ZIP code 33209.

Located on the Edward Waters College campus, the center offers health and wellness screenings, social services, community service workshops and seminars, parenting classes, educational programs (including GED preparation and computer training), employment and social service agency referrals.

Child welfare leaders working with the Duval County Health Department developed a report card to display an individual ZIP code’s success as a Community of Hope. The two broad categories they measured were health and education. Initially, analysts compared one ZIP code, 33209, to Duval County as a whole. The results were startling.

The 33209 ZIP code had:

  • Twice the number of deaths from chronic disease.
  • Four times the rate of diabetes per 100,000 people.
  • Four times the rate of bronchitis.
  • Far lower third-grade reading test scores.
  • Twice the rate of teen pregnancy.
  • 53 percent of the high school age youths graduating, compared with 63 percent for the county as a whole.

This report card is an important first step in building hope. With clear, easy to understand benchmarks, the community over time can measure progress on the key indicators of child health and well-being in the neighborhood.

Read More »
Related Resources

Creating a nation where all children are free from physical and emotional harm requires solutions that reach children within their families and communities.

LEARN MORE

Creating a Community of Hope that will ensure the safety and success of children begins with local leaders who challenge others to think differently.

LEARN MORE

Government's approach to funding often results in siloed service delivery systems that are difficult to coordinate, even on intricately connected issues.

LEARN MORE

Building a Community of Hope must also involve private and philanthropic groups working differently than they have with government and local communities.

LEARN MORE

Creating a nation where all children are free from physical and emotional harm requires solutions that reach children within their families and communities.

READ STORY

Creating a Community of Hope that will ensure the safety and success of children begins with local leaders who challenge others to think differently.

READ STORY

Government's approach to funding often results in siloed service delivery systems that are difficult to coordinate, even on intricately connected issues.

READ STORY

Building a Community of Hope must also involve private and philanthropic groups working differently than they have with government and local communities.

READ STORY

Send this to a friend