Our Identities, Ourselves: An Anti-Racist Review on Collecting Accurate Data on Race and Ethnicity

Center for the Study of Social Policy
September 2021
This literature review synthesizes the research on best practices for collecting, analyzing, and using comprehensive demographic data within child welfare systems.
Photos of adults, pregnant woman, and children

Much of the data that are currently collected by child protection agencies are missing, flawed, or not specific enough to be used in a way that could meaningfully support children, youth, and families. A key first step in developing targeted strategies to reduce disparities and improve well-being for underserved populations is to collect more accurate and nuanced data on race, ethnicity, and other demographic characteristics. This literature review includes background and historical context; information on the importance of data collection on race, ethnicity, and other identity markers for child protection agencies; challenges of collecting and analyzing data on racial and ethnic identity in child protection and foster care systems; and best practices for collecting and using race and ethnicity data.

To promote full visibility and inclusion of all the groups and identities served by child protection systems, there are several best practices and guiding principles for demographic data collection, reporting, and analysis that can be applied. Best practices include ways to address methodological challenges, as well as tips for reporting and using accurate data in ways that support children, youth, and families over time. A critical first step is for agency leadership to consider the purpose of collecting the data before asking staff to collect it and to work with families to codevelop the process and questions and ensure they can be used in a meaningful way.

Best Practices for Collecting and Using Race and Ethnicity Data

  • Prioritize self-identification and self-report.
  • Include both race and ethnicity options within a single question.
  • Collect tribal affiliation for American Indian/Alaskan Native youth and families.
  • Create data systems compatible with nuanced categories and subgroups.
  • Provide comprehensive training on the importance of asking about race.
  • Use and share data to develop targeted strategies.
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