As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt family well-being and economic stability nationwide, families are struggling to care for their children while managing work and other responsibilities. This has implications throughout our society. Child care is a crucial support for our country’s current workforce and for the healthy development of our next generation—the foundations of our economy.
At this pivotal moment, organizations across the country are seeking to understand the specific needs of families and child care providers to inform short- and long-term policy decisions and ultimately aid recovery. Some studies are assessing families’ child care needs and well-being at the national level, and others are focused on these issues in a state (PDF) or local (PDF) context. As they collect data, it’s imperative they do so through racial equity and community engagement lenses.
As a result of the legacy of structural racism, the health and economic effects of COVID-19 are hitting communities of color hardest. Researchers can’t properly understand the effects of the pandemic on families without properly collecting data from those most likely to be affected. To do this, we must account for communities’ specific historical and structural contexts when designing our approach and interpreting findings.
To combat worsening disparities, it’s crucial that researchers and other data collectors understand the diversity of experiences among different populations. Characteristics such as family composition, child age, and timing and flexibility of work schedules can all affect families’ experiences and needs.
Approaching this work with a community engagement lens will help give respondents a voice and role in shaping solutions that address their specific needs. Meaningful community engagement can not only improve research quality but also create lasting relationships built on a foundation of mutual respect and accountability.
Our research suggests the following strategies can help data collectors apply these principles to research amid the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
- Leverage existing relationships to effectively engage respondents: As a researcher, you may not have firsthand experience with or understanding of the communities you’re trying to reach. Partnering with stakeholders within communities can help you adapt your questions and methods to be better aligned with the community’s needs and ensure successful data collection.
- Meet your respondents where they are: Providers and families are busy. They may only have a few minutes to spare, and it might not be within the timeframe of the traditional workday. And now, families are juggling caregiving with employment (PDF) and other household responsibilities during a pandemic. Listening and adapting to respondent populations’ situations can make research less extractive and more collaborative. Choose your questions carefully to make the most of their limited time, and experiment with different delivery methods to accommodate varying scheduling and technology needs.
- Collect and report data by demographic groups: To fully understand the depth of inequities across racial and ethnic groups, income levels, and geographies, we must collect demographic data from our respondents and disaggregate our findings by group. This can also mean seeking representative samples when we collect data to ensure respondents reflect the communities they come from.
- Don’t ask unnecessary questions: When developing questions, consider what other research has been done with this population. It can be challenging for participants when questions aren’t relevant to their circumstances, so consider questions from other surveys carefully before including. Do they truly fit your population, or do they need to be adapted? Keep your survey as short as possible by focusing on information that is not yet known. Resources like the Urban Institute’s List of COVID-19 Child Care Surveys and Data Analyses can be a starting point to help determine which questions have been answered already and guide you in creating your own.
- Be mindful of the sensitivity of these topics: Asking about people’s experiences during the pandemic can bring up feelings of stress and anxiety but can also be an opportunity to validate their perspectives. Centering your respondents’ experiences and acknowledging their contexts can help build trust and mutual respect. Communities of color may be especially affected by these questions as a result of additional stressors, such as recent racial aggression toward Asian Americans, the ongoing traumatization of Black communities by police violence, and disproportionate COVID-19 infection and death rates in Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other communities of color. Uplifting the stories of those most affected can help create policies to equitably and effectively support them.
- Share your data and findings with involved communities: Sharing survey data with the population you interviewed and incorporating their interpretation of the data can improve the quality of your findings and policy recommendations. This practice can also ensure respondents feel accurately represented in the data. Posting data publicly and in a format accessible to community members of different backgrounds can help break down power inequities around data use and be useful to communities long after the research project has ended.
These strategies are just a few among many opportunities to build stronger relationships with the communities we work with, uplift their experiences, and create more equitable solutions to support them. Though this blog post focuses on the context of families with young children, these strategies can be applied to research and data collection across populations and topic areas. Although the demand for rapid-response research is intense, it’s important to approach these data collection efforts with care and respect for the people we engage.