Indicators and Indices of Child Well-Being

A Brief History

Posted August 8, 2005
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Child Trends
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This report examines the research field’s evolution in terms of identifying and leveraging social indicators of child well-being.

The exploration starts in 1929, when the Committee on Recent Social Trends — established by President Herbert Hoover — used statistical indicators to help track social trends and the published its findings in 1933.

The ensuing text spotlights seminal reports, collaborations and researchers devoted to the development of social indicators and indices of child well-being.

Among the scholars mentioned: Orville Brim and Nick Zill, who in the mid-1970s launched a charge — revolutionary at the time — to create a comprehensive set of social indicators on child well-being.

Among the collaborations mentioned: The Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, which was founded in 1994 to help inform and advance the collection and reporting of federal data on children and families.

Among the publications mentioned: U.S. Children and Their Families: Current Conditions and Recent Trends, which Child Trends produced in 1989 for the Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families of the U.S. House of Representatives. The report utilized 125 indicators across a variety of domains such as family environment, parental employment, economic well-being, education, health and government programs affecting children.

Readers will also review major discussion points for the field, including the use of positive social indicators, the paucity of child mental health data, and the hurdles associated with navigating the statistical web that links children, their families and their communities.

About the Series

This publication is part of the KIDS COUNT® Working Paper series, which elevates discussions about data gaps, results and trends related to the KIDS COUNT database.

Findings & Stats

Statements & Quotations

Key Takeaway

The 1990s arrived and gave rise to a transformative social indicators revival

During the decade of the 1990s, a social indicators revival kicked off and gained strength in every dimension. Improvements included: more and better measures; vastly expanding the data collected at all geographic scales; growth in access to data via published reports, online databases and data systems; a stronger research base; and a remarkable uptick in the use of indicators as tools for planning and governance at the national, state and local levels