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Reworking Children’s Social Work Statistics

Children’s Social Work Statistics covers annual data on looked after children, children on the child protection register and young people in secure care accommodation. It was revised for the 2011-12 publication to try to make it more engaging and useful for non-experts.

I’ve outlined the stages I went through to review it below. Some of these specific issues won’t be relevant to other publications, but the general process of considering what you’re providing and how you could make it more easily understandable is applicable to everyone.

1.  Asked “what would I need to know to make sense of this data?”

The publication was missing basic contextual information, so I changed the introduction from being a list of key statistics to a more general introduction which gave some relevant background:

  • This publication covers a specific group of children. What proportion of all children are looked after/on the child protection register?
  • What is the general trend? And what is driving the general trend?
  • Are there patterns within Scotland?
  • Are there patterns across the UK?

As it turned out, the patterns across the UK were too complicated to cover in the introduction, so I added them to each of the individual topic chapters instead.

2. Checked with users what the key statistics are

While I’d done away with the main statistics as a list, there were a few main statistics that media/local authorities/other users would look for, which I incorporated in to the introduction. It turned out that no one needed the other key statistics (which ran to several paragraphs).

3. Identified wording/terminology that would not be clear to non-experts

In some cases this would be where technical or specific terms were used with no explanation (e.g. “Fifty seven per cent of young people had a pathway plan”). Where it wasn’t clear whether it was a good thing that something had happened I added additional text beforehand giving some background.

In other cases, there was needlessly technical information which did not directly aid readers’ interpretation of the data. In these cases I either moved these points to the background notes or removed them entirely.

4. Identified key messages within each topic

Given that I’d identified the key overall messages in the introduction, it made sense to also include the key 2-3 messages at the start of each topic so as not to move from the very high level straight into the detail

5. Are there things that go in the briefing to the Minister that should go in the publication?

The cross-UK comparison had previously only been included in the briefing to the Minister. I also found better explanations of trends in the briefing, which I moved in the main publication.

6. Where tables or charts show several years data, do the years that are included give a sense of the wider trend?

The trends in this area have been consistent for around 15 years, but only the most recent five or so years were included in each table. As a result the commentary did not give a sense of the scale of change over time, only of the recent changes. Rather than just adding in the new year’s data and removing the oldest year, where it made sense I added in five yearly data plus the most recent few years (e.g. 2000, 2005, 2010, 2011, 2012) to allow us to comment on the longer term trend.

5. General presentation

Appropriate font sizes, clear contents page, use of Excel 2010 charts and infographics to represent key points.

Carrie Graham
Children and Families Analysis
Scottish Government

Link to release