Learning from Listening

Part 3 of our Community Owned Data blog series

This is the third post in our month-long Community Owned Data series we are doing to highlight our learnings from the Best Starts for Kids Health Survey. We brought the data to specific communities in the form of “data dives”, asked what they thought, and learned a lot from community input and data interpretation! In this post, we share more about what we heard and learned.

During the data dives, we presented data about five important topics covered in the health survey. These topics are:

  • Reading, Singing and Telling Stories to Children
  • Family Resilience
  • Parent/Caregiver Emotional Support
  • ACEs
  • Thriving Children
Data Dive participants

Note: We link to data throughout this post. Please know that the data you initially see represents all of King County. In order to dig deeper into the data and find more specific information on different communities, click on the “demographics” tab. It was this deeper data that we brought to communities so they could interpret their own, specific community data.

Reading, Singing, and Telling Stories to Children

Having a secure attachment with caregivers is essential for a young child’s brain development, and provides the foundation for lifelong learning including problem solving, communication, self-control, and relationship building. Reading, singing, or telling stories to children every day helps support attachment and gives their growing brains opportunities to develop new neural connections. In King County, 73% of children age five and younger are read, sung to, or told stories to on a daily basis.


Families shared a variety of barriers to daily reading. One was a lack of access to books in their primary language, and other challenges with children who don’t want to speak their home language. It can take a long time to get to a library, because of distance and transportation. For parents who never had the experience of being read to when they were children, it might not come as naturally to read to their children. Parents working long hours have less time to spend with children. Parents of children with special needs also pointed out the unique challenges they face in doing activities daily. As one Chinese American caregiver said,

Families with special needs have different experiences. When my kid wants to read, he would read for the whole day. When I want to read with him on another day, he doesn’t want to read any more.

Some also wondered how the question would be interpreted in different cultures, especially oral cultures. For example, parents who tell their children stories about their workday might not think that “counts” if they are not sitting down with a book. Samoan and Native parents in particular were proud of their culture of singing and telling stories and saw this a strength in their parenting.

Family Resilience

Resilient families provide safe, supportive, and nurturing environments for children to grow, helping children be more independent, cope with stress, and build strong relationships with peers. The Best Starts for Kids Health Survey asked about four components of family resiliency when faced with challenges: acknowledging strengths (89%), staying hopeful (94%), talking together about what to do (88%), and working together (88%). Overall, only 32% of families said that they did all four of these things all of the time.

One thing we heard from participants at many data dives was that doing all of these things all of the time is an extremely high bar for families, and that even healthy and resilient families could realistically respond “most of the time.” After hearing this feedback, we looked at how many families did all of these practices all or most of the time. At 78%, this is much higher!

Participants also said that culture can impact these practices, and different communities have different definitions of resiliency and different strategies (such as praying together, or learning together, more so than talking about issues). As one Black/African American parent asked,

Who determines the terminology? My interpretation of resiliency is different. We have to be careful when we have people writing questions for our culture.

Participants recommended community spaces where parents can be supported in their emotional well-being and resilience as well as basic needs, and where their culture would be affirmed and supported.

Parent/Caregiver Emotional Support

Raising children can be hard work! Caregivers who have emotional support can better meet the emotional needs of their children, and report higher confidence in their ability to care for their children. In the Best Starts for Kids Health Survey, 75% of parents and caregivers said they had someone to turn to for day-to-day emotional support with parenting.

However, participants in seven out of eight data dives felt that this level of support was not available to parents in their communities. They described social isolation due to migration and gentrification, and for LGBTQ2S families, lack of support from families of origin. Samoan families felt that their close-knit community did provide emotional support for almost all members.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, are toxic stressors during childhood that have been linked with lifelong consequences for health and well-being. The Best Starts for Kids Health Survey asked about eight ACEs, such as whether a parent or guardian was incarcerated, or whether the child witnessed violence in their home or neighborhood. The Best Starts for Kids Health Survey found that 9% of children have experienced two or more ACEs, but this varied among different race and ethnicity groups, neighborhoods, household income, and more.

The “mainstream” accepted list of ACEs. Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Credit: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Many data dive participants felt that ACEs were likely to be under-reported, since parents may not want to acknowledge difficult or taboo issues, or may feel uncomfortable sharing this information with a government entity.

Some participants also suggested that their children experienced a much wider range of challenges than those defined as “ACEs” in the survey – for example, stress as a result of structural and institutional racism, poverty, and homophobia. As one Somali caregiver commented,

Our stress is not from ACEs. Our ACEs are different. They come in the form of stress caused by things we lack but could be achievable.

Participants also emphasized the importance of resilience; experiencing ACEs doesn’t dictate a child’s future outcomes. In fact, among Best Starts for Kids survey participants, children with two or more ACEs were just as likely to be thriving and to have protective factors as children that had not experienced one or no ACEs. One participant in the Black/African American community café shared that she felt saddened but unsurprised by the ACEs data we shared. But, she said,

I see it as a point of strength. Look how many of these [ACEs] I’ve experienced, but we’re here.

Participants suggested many ways to support families and children that are experiencing ACEs, such as supporting parents in positive parenting practices; decreasing stigma about mental and behavioral health issues; ensuring that workforces that serve children and families understand ACEs; and helping families meet basic needs like housing.

Thriving Children

The Best Starts for Kids Health Survey asked about key markers that research has shown indicate thriving children. For little ones between zero and five years of age, they include a healthy attachment to parents or caregivers, showing curiosity and interest, the ability to regain calm behavior after an upset, and expressions of joy or happiness. For those in kindergarten through 5th grade, we asked about interest and curiosity; the ability to finish tasks; and staying calm when faced with a challenge.  In King County, 59% of zero to five year olds displayed all of these qualities, but only 30% of elementary-age children did.

Participants had many ideas about the cause of this drop, and many felt that the data did reflect what they saw in their communities. Many communities saw it as evidence of a lack of support for their children in the school environment, citing disproportionate discipline and lack of staff who reflected the identities or understood the experiences of students. One Native parent shared,

The reason this is so low is because of how unsuccessful our community is in the public education system. How our needs and wants are not recognized by the elementary system. Doesn’t surprise me at all, seems pretty accurate to me.

Somali participants also felt that unsafe neighborhoods, lack of safe housing and adequate income were impacting their children’s ability to thrive.

Participants also had a lot of feedback about how the idea of “thriving” children is measured and defined. In the research about this construct, it is called “flourishing and resilient children.” But many parents reported that this language did not resonate with them at all, or was unclear; they suggested “thriving” instead. Participants also felt that the components of this could be biased, vague, or subjective. As one provider commented,

I think this is an Americanized way to look at it. Understand it might not be, culturally, their experience, but their child could still thrive.

Parents saw many ways to promote more thriving children, from changing the school environment to providing more quality early learning programs.


We’ll wrap up the series next week with a contribution from one of our Spanish speaking facilitators, interactive data visualizations, and an intro to our more in depth data write ups. So stay tuned! As always, if you have any questions, feel free to leave us a comment below. You can also contact the Best Starts data team directly at bsk.data@kingcounty.gov.




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