How can Scotland use data to keep The Promise?

Keeping The Promise to care experienced children and young people requires a rethink of the data Scotland collects on them. It needs to be centred around the things that matter most to them.

In February 2020, the Independent Care Review reported its findings of a root and branch review of the care system in Scotland. The outcome was The Promise to care experienced children, young people and their families that “every child grows up loved, safe and respected, able to realise their full potential”. It recognises that keeping The Promise requires a long term programme for change in Scotland’s care system.

One of the review’s findings was that the data Scotland collects is too focused on measuring what matters to ‘the system’ and not on what matters to children and families within the system.

For example, the criminal justice system collects administrative data about the children who interact with it, but there might be less known about how they were treated, whether they felt listened to and their experiences after their involvement with the system.

“Scotland collects data on the ‘care system’ and its inputs, processes and outputs rather than what matters to the experiences and outcomes of the people who live in and around it.”

What matters to children and families?

Using evidence and testimonies submitted during the review, The Promise Scotland were able to identify a list of criteria that care experienced children, young people and their families reported as being the things that matter to them.

We know that data is held by many different public bodies for different purposes and that there is no common understanding of what data is collected and why. This is concerning, as there may be trends or outcomes that we don’t know about, making it impossible to design effective public policy and to therefore meet “The Promise”

In response to this finding, The Promise Scotland are seeking to build a “cohesive central picture of all data on the processes and systems that directly and indirectly impact on children and their families”.

Starting small

With this aim, The Promise Scotland funded an initial programme of work investigating what data is collected by a small number of key stakeholders, how it is used and how it relates to the priorities of children and families with experience of the care system. Eventually, the hope is that this will be done on a nationwide scale across all public bodies in Scotland.

This work was facilitated by the Data for Children Collaborative and carried out by the Fraser of Allander Institute, alongside Wallscope, who are also developing an interactive data mapping tool. Our findings were published in this report and documents the findings from our work with South Ayrshire Council, Skills Development Scotland, Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration, Police Scotland, Strathclyde University, Ayrshire College and Public Health Scotland.

A big task ahead

During our work it quickly became clear how challenging it will be to keep The Promise if the scale of ambition behind it is not matched by equally ambitious investment in resources in data collection.

Most of the data we came across was administrative in nature and as such is not able to inform public bodies about the experiences and outcomes of care experienced children and young people who engage with them.

Our work will inform a broader, nationwide, assessment of the data collected on children and families. As well as the lack of data on things that really matter to children and families, we also faced issues in accessing information on what was collected.

During our work, we were heavily reliant on the accuracy and completeness of information provided by stakeholders. This information tended to be far more insightful when stakeholders had a high understanding of what we were doing and why. This required investment in time and resources to bring stakeholders fully into the process. A simple questionnaire emailed over was rarely sufficient.

We also found a trade off between the breadth and depth of information provided by stakeholders. We asked for information on all data that organisations collect relating to children and families. This might involve vast datasets with a variety of information collected, and different people in the organisation may only understand parts of what the organisation holds. It could be hard to get a full understanding of what data was held across the whole organisation.

Gaining a more thorough and granular understanding of each stakeholder organisation’s data will likely require The Promise Scotland to engage broadly across organisations and invest time and resource in building up relationships to access information, and ultimately to influence the type of information organisations are gathering.

Looking to the future

The ambitions behind The Promise require an overhaul of the type of data that is collected on children and families across the entirety of Scotland’s public sector. It will need public bodies to carefully consider how data can be leveraged to better inform them about the things that matter to children and families.

This is a large, complex, and therefore resource-intensive task. Having better data is not just about measuring impact. It will also be a sure sign of the system pivoting to place the experiences of people at the heart of the process. Without these changes, it is difficult to see how The Promise can be met.

For more information on The Promise Scotland’s approach to Doing Data Differently, please click here. For more information on The Promise Data Map, click here.


Knowledge Exchange Associate at the Fraser of Allander Institute

Emma Congreve is a Principal Knowledge Exchange Fellow and Deputy Director at the Fraser of Allander Institute. Emma's work at the Institute is focussed on policy analysis, covering a wide range of areas of social and economic policy.  Emma is an experienced economist and has previously held roles as a senior economist at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and as an economic adviser within the Scottish Government.

Chirsty is a Knowledge Exchange Associate at the Fraser of Allander Institute where she primarily works on projects related to employment and inequality.