Measuring and Monitoring Children's Well-Being across the World

By Andrews, Arlene Bowers; Ben-Arieh, Asher | Social Work, March 1999 | Go to article overview

Measuring and Monitoring Children's Well-Being across the World


Andrews, Arlene Bowers, Ben-Arieh, Asher, Social Work


An international initiative to measure and monitor the status of children beyond survival is an effort to use tools of the information age to promote understanding of children's life perspectives and an action to improve their condition. An interdisciplinary group proposes widespread consensus on the selection and monitoring of cross-cultural indicators to cover the following children's life domains: social connectedness, civil life skills, personal life skills that enable children to contribute to their own well-being, safety and physical status, and children's subculture. Social workers can contribute substantially to the design, collection, interpretation, and use of indicators in various arenas ranging from local to global levels.

Key words; children, cross-cultural indicators, well-being

As an undergraduate psychology student, I was required to sit for an hour each week watching a preschool child at the university lab school, writing copious notes about every move she made, every word she said, everything she did. The exercise was intended to develop our budding observational skills as behavioral scientists. It accomplished more than that. As I watched and wrote, an empathic awareness grew within me about how this child saw and felt her world. By collecting and analyzing child behavioral data, I changed. I began to cast away the socialization that led me to exclude and trivialize children in my life. I tried to understand the child and what the child was contributing to my world.

--A. B. Andrews

What would the earth be like if, for the first time in human history, adults collectively focused attention on the lives of the youngest members of the race? Granted, most adults generally try to act in the best interests of children, although they do so from their own adult-centric perspectives as nurturers and protectors. For adults to listen to children or view the world through the eyes of children departs radically from the dominant paradigm. This article describes an evolving international effort to use tools of the information age to help people, young and old, understand children and their environments. The effort, driven by a moral imperative to honor the dignity of young humans and a practical compulsion to improve the overall human condition, promotes cross-cultural measurement and monitoring of the state of children beyond survival.

The social work profession can contribute substantially to this effort. Social workers, trained to value information as power, recognize how information shapes public policy and social services. The policy arena is full of facts, opinions, and beliefs with varying degrees of accuracy. Increasingly, policymakers and managers expect reliable, valid information. People with access to data and options about how to use it (or not) wield considerable influence in the policy process. Those without information remain frustratingly powerless.

Children are among the groups in society who have rarely been encouraged to speak for themselves in the public policy arena. They are invisible and their voices are relatively silent, although caring adults do attempt to represent their interests. Throughout the history of democracy, information about children has been offered in the policy process to promote and evaluate policies and programs that affect children's lives. The information is meager compared with that produced in the interest of economic wealth (for example, hourly and daily market reports), military security (for example, immediate status reports on all systems), or the physical environment (for example, moment-by-moment weather and pollution reports). Sophisticated data systems permit monitoring of trends and forecasts of needs for everything from pork bellies to airline tickets, but the capacity to portray children's needs and resources is limited. The combination of silent voices and insufficient information in their interests has contributed to the relatively powerless position of children in society. …

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