A Review Essay on the Measurement of Child Well-Being
There is widespread evidence that poverty in childhood and its impact on children’s development has significant short and long term impacts on their well-being. This essay offers a critical analysis of the importance of focusing on child well-being, due to the relevance and scale of the issue, and of the most recent and pertinent child well-being indexes that facilitate the measurement of progress in this field. The indexes analysed include The Child and Youth Well-being Index from the United States, the European Union’s Child Well-Being Index, the Microdata Child Well-Being Index and the Deprivation Index. Focusing on the benefits that these indexes have brought to the child-well being sector, the study also assesses the methods employed in constructing the indexes and identifies their principal limitations.
Why focus on child well-being
Research shows that traditionally children have been disproportionally affected by poverty than any other group and that they are at higher risk of poverty than the average member of the population. In 2005, 19% of the child population in EU27 countries was at risk of poverty in comparison to 16% of the total population. Despite improvements in some of these countries, the essay states that children remain vulnerable and notes that addressing poverty alone does not ensure their well-being.
The essay documents that child well-being depends on several factors and consequently, that measurement should encompass a range of indicators. In addition, it states that despite broad recognition of the importance of social indicators in policy formation, there is a lack of indicators specific to children, primarily because the family as opposed to the child is most commonly used as the unit of analysis. Accordingly it highlights the need for children to be recognised as an independent group with specific characteristics and needs who ‘deserve a direct approach, different indicators and, consequently different policies’.
The review puts forward three core reasons as to why child well-being deserves special attention at both the national and international levels. These are:
1. The problem of child well-being has present and future repercussions on the lives of children
2. Children are disproportionately affected by poverty
3. There is a lack of information on children’s lives
Trends in the Measurement of Child Well-Being
Child well-being is a growing field that has experienced significant changes over time. Three recent trends are highlighted by the authors. The first is an increasing child centred focus which has been inspired by the framework established by the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (1989) and developments in the field of social psychology, in particular the ecological model of human development.
The second trend is the use of a multidimensional approach. The CRC and the ecological model of human development helped to highlight the multidimensional nature of child well-being and the need to look at the multiple factors which affect children’s lives and to see beyond indicators of family income poverty to measure the extent of child welfare.
The final trend highlighted by the review is the increasing use of single composite indexes. These indexes summarize children’s situations as opposed to considering several disparate indicators making measuring progress easier and facilitating comparisons between trends across different demographic groups, localities and regions. There is much debate around the importance awarded to each indicator when aggregating them into a single composite index, however agreement on a different weighting scheme has not yet been achieved.
Components for the effective measuring of child well-being
In addition to the aforementioned trends the review acknowledges the emergence of a discussion of children as agents in their own lives and in the assessment of their own well-being and articulates six aspects, necessary to the effective measurement of child well-being:
1. The child is the unit of analysis
2. Children’s perspectives on their own well-being are considered
3. Multidimensionality is employed
4. Preference for summary indexes which adequately represent the overall well-being of children
5. Preference to assign real weights to indicators
6. Interactions between the different aspects of well-being are considered
In comparing the indexes analysed (The Child and Youth Well-being Index from the United States, the European Union's Child Well Being Index, the Microdata Child Well-Being Index and the Deprivation Index) the review makes a case for the development of a ‘common and consensual framework’. It argues that such an approach would allow for the clearer definition of dimensions and indicators facilitating the construction of summary indexes and more accurate cross country and regional comparisons.
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- A Review Essay on the Measurement of Child Well-Being by Liliana Fernandes, Americo Mendes, Aurora A.C. Teixeira