A gut check

While I am lucky that I get to consult with schools and districts in their work with families, it isn’t often that I get to engage with students and families directly (especially since COVID derailed my weekly mentoring sessions at a high school here in Columbus).

So I was especially delighted this week, when, through my part-time work at Ohio State, I got the opportunity to begin a series of focus groups with kinship caregivers (grandparents, aunts/uncles, and other relatives or close friends who are the primary guardians for their relatives’ children).

Through this study, we are trying to learn how the pandemic has impacted kinship families and how we can advocate for the resources and supports they really need to improve the quality of life of the children in their care and themselves.

To me, this study is a great example of engaging with data – using our conversations with key stakeholders to guide future interventions and advocacy efforts. 

Well, the first focus group was last night, and what I heard really impacted me. 

I talk a lot about telling your story and how using qualitative data with numbers and stats can amplify the effect of our analysis.

This focus group reminded me of just how powerful that effect can be. 

You see, for my work at OSU, I’ve done a lot of digging into the literature about kinship care and the national statistics about how children in and around the child welfare system fare in different settings. 

Yet hearing a particular focus group participant share their story last night made it all come to life for me, in a way I haven’t experienced since my time working in schools. 

This caregiver shared the raw, painful emotions they were experiencing as a result of caring for multiple children with few supports but plenty of challenging family dynamics, fears, and frustrations. It was impossible to not be moved by their story.

From reading other studies about kinship care or even reviewing survey data from this and other studies, I knew that all of these factors were common for kinship caregivers. 

Yet this qualitative data – this person’s actual experiences shared in their own voice – helped me better understand just how real these phenomena are and just how important it is to use our findings to help improve lives.  

This was a gut check for me – a reminder to always seek the stories in our data, connect them to real people, and use my place of privilege to try to make their world a bit better. 

As we re-enter schools this fall in a once-again scary and uncertain time, remember that the lines in your spreadsheets and the names on your event sign-in sheets are real people, often living difficult lives in an especially challenging time. 

Thankfully, as educators, we have the ability to connect our students and families with resources and supports, if only we are able to hear their stories.

For more information on using qualitative data in your engagement work, check out some past posts here, here, and here.