Measuring the Well-Being of our Children is No Easy Task

Poverty & Family Economics

The Foundation for Child Development recently issued its 2013 Child Well-Being Index (CWI), which provides a comprehensive measure of how children are faring in the United States.

This year’s CWI highlights long-term trends from 1975-2012 in its 28 Key Indicators of Well-Being, grouped into 7 Quality-of-Life/Well-Being Domains, which are: Family Economic Well-Being, Safe/Risky Behavior, Social Relationships, Emotional/Spiritual Well-Being, Community Engagement, Educational Attainment, and Health.

The 2013 CWI shows while gains have been made in some areas, such as lower rates of risky behavior by youth, overall child well-being in the United States saw little improvement since 1975. Some of this is due to negative impacts of the Great Recession that reversed any gains made in earlier years. This is especially true in the area of Family Economic Well-Being, where the increase of child poverty and negative effects of rates of secure parental employment and median family income were severe.

First Focus co-hosted a Congressional briefing with the Foundation of Child Development today to release the 2013 CWI and discuss what we can learn from these trends to improve the well-being of children. Sponsored by the Congressional Children’s Caucus, Co-Chair Representative Sheila Jackson Lee and Co-Chair Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the briefing featured presentations from Kenneth C. Land, John Franklin Crowell Professor of Sociology and Faculty Director, Center for Population, Health, and Aging, Duke University, Liz Ryan, President and CEO for the Campaign for Youth Justice, Dave Schrandt, Homeless Liaison for the Cypress-Fairbanks School District, and Bruce Lesley, President of First Focus.

At the briefing, the panelists highlighted some of the various trends from the CWI and provided context with insight into the reason for these trends and their implication for children now and in the future. Liz Ryan discussed the decrease in youth violent crime victimization and youth violent crime offending rates, and while the exact reasons behind this trend are unclear to experts, there have been efforts by states to reduce youth incarceration, which improves outcomes and save costs.

Dave Schrandt spoke about his experience working directly with homeless children, youth, and families and how he has witnessed firsthand the negative effects of the recession on the well-being of families in America. However, the coordination of services he provides as a Homeless Liaison to students in the Cypress-Fairbanks school district in Texas, such as assistance to homeless students with transportation to school and obtaining school supplies, are critical to a homeless student’s educational success and is how he is working to improve the stagnant trend of family economic well-being illustrated in the CWI.

Bruce Lesley wrapped up the briefing by illustrating that while the concept of child well-being is complex, the overall message was simple – we need to do better by our children. The American public agrees and supports efforts like protecting investments in children in the federal budget. It is our responsibility to use the data from the Child Well-Being to develop policies that improve the well-being of our children.