Data, data everywhere: Making meaning out of numbers

When I started my career, I was certain I wanted to be a researcher. I had so many questions about why people, especially kids, are the way they are, and I wanted to help find answers. In an effort to understand how children’s brains work, I started working as a research coordinator studying differences in children’s brain activity and genetics. By monitoring subtle changes in brain activity, we could start to understand the relationship between mental processing mechanisms and experiences of anxiety, depression and other mental health symptoms.

But the longer I worked with kids and collected data on their symptoms, the more questions I had about the root causes of emotional struggle. I realized that despite all the time we spent talking to youth and their families, and all the data we collected on individual behaviors and brain activity, there was so much we didn’t know. What were their home and school environments like, and what kinds of resources were available to them? Did they have quality healthcare? Access to nutritious food? For all the important information we gathered about how kids were behaving, we had hardly any knowledge about how they were being supported in society, and very little way to do anything to increase that support when needed.

I shifted course and made a point to learn about social programs and the role of policy in access to opportunity. In pursuit of that goal, I got my master’s in social work with a focus on social policy and have spent the last few years working with various Michigan nonprofits on advocacy and policy work, including supporting justice system reform and LGBTQ+ rights. I’ve learned that if one person is up against a barrier, more than likely many others are in the same boat, striving toward the same changes in pursuit of collective prosperity. The more we continue to look upstream at the many factors that impact access to opportunity, including race, location and income level, the better poised we are to find solutions that enhance life for all of us.

I begin my chapter at the League in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, acutely aware that this past year has accentuated many longtime vulnerabilities in our social systems. The pandemic has shown us just how fragile the economic and emotional state is for so many Michigan families, and highlighted the racial inequities that continue to exist in access to care.

Still, I continue to witness stories of strength and resilience alongside struggle, and am encouraged by some of the steps Michigan is taking. Thanks to concerted efforts, Michigan responded quickly to increase access to food benefits for families early on, and after implementing a coronavirus taskforce on racial inequities, began to decrease the disparate impact of COVID-19 on Black Michiganders. Michigan has long been my home, and even in its darkest times I am invested in seeing its successes.

That’s why despite the challenges we face in 2021, I’m so excited to join a team working to understand and advance policies in Michigan that support opportunity for all. As an Early Childhood analyst on the Kids Count team, I’m in some ways returning to my career beginnings:
tracking data to learn about kids. While data alone still can’t provide answers to every question I may have, it is a crucial step toward understanding outcomes—especially through this pandemic—and supporting public policies that allow all of Michigan’s youngest residents to thrive.

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