Measuring Well-being

How do you actually measure well-being?

By Tracey Feild

In recent years, many child welfare systems have turned to assessment tools to provide a standardized picture of children’s emotional, behavioral or mental health status. But these tools often require trained clinicians. This can be expensive — and often the results do not present a timely, reliable measure of a child’s progress over time.

It is our belief that the better we get at tracking children’s well-being over time, the smarter we will be at identifying children’s needs, matching children’s needs with providers’ strengths, and understanding whether child welfare interventions are improving child well-being.

As a result, many systems work in the dark, without sufficient resources to understand whether a child is achieving safety, permanency and well-being, the three goals of our nation’s child welfare system. An equally urgent, more global question: Does intervening in children’s lives, whether as service providers or as a child welfare system, actually help them? We don’t know—because we don’t have the right tools to measure how children are doing socially and emotionally as individuals or as a population. This is a problem, since research suggests that social and emotional measures are the most powerful predictors of children’s future success in school and in life. 

Of course, child welfare systems do collect information on where children are, whether they are safe and how quickly they are placed with families. But currently systems are unable to capture meaningful information about a child’s social and emotional well-being — and when assessment information does exist, it often draws conclusions about children with too little information.

To really know a child, you need the observations of people who see the child in action. Not just in a caseworker or therapist’s office, but also at home and with family and friends. You need a common language so adults charged with caring for a child can share information, discuss a child’s strengths and challenges, and make informed decisions about services and care.

It is our belief that the better we get at tracking children’s well-being over time, the smarter we will be at identifying children’s needs, matching children’s needs with providers’ strengths, and understanding whether child welfare interventions are improving child well-being. In this important work, Kids Insight is in sync with the federal government, which in a recent directive has called for public child welfare agencies to focus greater attention on children’s social and emotional well-being.

Excerpted from The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s post
“New Tool Measures Well-Being of Kids Served by Child Welfare Systems”

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