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.
The 1990s arrived and gave rise to a transformative social indicators revival
Findings & Stats
Inaugural International Report
In 1990, the Census Bureau produced the first international report on child well-being comparing the U.S. to 15 other developed countries. The areas compared included family structure, economic status, health, education, youth employment, and family formation.
State-level Reporting Takes Shape
In 1990, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released its first-ever KIDS COUNT report, which presented data for the nation and all 50 states across 10 indicators of child well-being. The document — produced annually to date — tracks progress and ranks states on a wide variety of areas, including infant mortality, teen births, high school dropouts, secure parental employment, child poverty and single-parent families.
First U.S. Government Report
In 1997, the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics released the first official government report on the well-being of American children. Key child well-being indicators were selected in the domains of: economic security, health, behavior and social environment, and education. The report has been produced annually since 1997 and points to data needs in each domain, which has driven priorities for federal data collection on children and families.
Statements & Quotations
Many important dimensions of well-being, such as child mental health, lacked any adequate measures appropriate for large-scale surveys; the research base on which many indicator measures were grounded was often thin; and data for even strong measures were often not available except at the national level.
The field of indicators of child well-being has its origins in the Social Indicators Movement of the 1960s, which arose in a climate of rapid social change and a sense that government, with the use of social measurement and planning, should offer corrective responses to social problems.
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