In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Child Well-Being

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Data Sources
  • Journals
  • History

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Childhood Studies Child Well-Being
Andrew Dawes
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 March 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0012


Well-being is a broad and contested construct with definitions that vary across disciplines, research studies, policy makers, cultural communities, and age groups. From an earlier emphasis on child poverty, survival, and health, the range of well-being domains included in definitions has expanded considerably. Despite contestation of the construct and its measurement, it is probably fair to state that the well-being of children (persons under eighteen years of age) refers to their current status as assessed across a number of domains appropriate to their stage of life. At least the following are relevant: survival, health (including mental health), safety and protection, education and development, social relations, and participation. Each of these contains a number of subareas. For example, disability may reside within health, although that is controversial. There is an increasing trend, in the industrialized nations at least, to move toward an approach to child well-being in which the focus is less on negative outcomes for children (e.g., delinquency; school dropout) than on positive attributes such as self-efficacy, civic participation, and prosocial behavior. Cultural communities, policy experts, and children themselves may not always share the same concerns when it comes to description and measurement. There is growing, although limited, realization of the importance of culturally valid conceptualization and measurement. Children and adolescents create their own cultural worlds and ideas about their well-being in accordance with their age, status, and local norms. Their perspectives are increasingly being sought in order to derive valid measures of their well-being.

The author would like to thank Ms. Inge Wessels for her assistance in compiling this bibliography.

General Overviews

Most of the literature in this field is concerned with indicators of child well-being and measurement. Less attention is paid to conceptualization. Camfield, et al. 2009 provides a systematic critique of the concept and its utilization, including the importance of drawing on local conceptualizations of well-being when designing instruments and conducting research. Weisner 1998 describes the manner in which cultural communities provide cultural pathways to desired developmental outcomes, including child well-being. Huston 2002 provides useful guidelines for linking of indicators of child well-being to children’s development and to their family environment. Children’s development and well-being is increasingly influenced by contexts beyond the family as they grow older. Earls and Carlson 2001 addresses this issue in a consideration of neighborhood influences. Most of the literature on child well-being derives from modern societies. Saith and Rekha 2010 provides one of the few critical examinations of the measurement of domains of child well-being in a developing country. Ennew 1999 is a seminal contribution to the use of indicators for tracking children’s rights.

  • Camfield, Laura, Natalia Streuli, and Martin Woodhead. “What’s the Use of ‘Well-Being’ in Contexts of Child Poverty? Approaches to Research, Monitoring and Children’s Participation.” International Journal of Children’s Rights 17 (2009): 65–109.

    DOI: 10.1163/157181808X357330

    The debates surrounding the conceptualization of child well-being and its measurement are covered in this comprehensive, well-reasoned essay. It is one of the few contributions to unpack the concept and interrogate the controversies surrounding definition and measurement. The authors stress the importance of assessing children’s own evaluations of their well-being.

  • Earls, Felton, and Mary Carlson. “The Social Ecology of Child Health and Child Well-Being.” Annual Review of Public Health 22 (2001): 143–166.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.publhealth.22.1.143

    The authors demonstrate the use of an ecological approach to well-being, arguing that we need to take account of the effects of contexts beyond the family. An excellent contribution to conceptualization of children’s contextual influences on well-being.

  • Ennew, Judith. “Children’s Rights Indicators.” In Understanding Children’s Rights: Collected Papers at the Fourth International Interdisciplinary Course on Children’s Rights, Held at the University of Ghent, December 2000. Edited by Eugeen Verhellen, 197–216. Ghent, Belgium: Children’s Rights Centre, 1999.

    In this important contribution to monitoring the realization of children’s rights, Ennew proposes that indicator systems include baselines, indicators that can provide disaggregation by age, gender, and disability, valid, reliable, regularly available data sources that permit tracking over time, and child-centered statistics.

  • Huston, Althea C. “Reforms and Child Development.” Children and Welfare Reform 12 (2002): 59–77.

    Huston draws on child development to formulate a set of goals for child well-being, the supports needed to promote well-being, and a set of indicators for monitoring the status of children against each goal. Her approach identifies the need for a developmentally sensitive approach to child well-being and its measurement.

  • Saith, Ashwani, and Wazir Rekha. “Towards Conceptualizing Child Wellbeing in India: Need for a Paradigm Shift.” Child Indicators Research 3 (2010): 385–408.

    DOI: 10.1007/s12187-010-9065-3

    The paper critiques approaches to the measurement of child well-being in India. It includes a review of some internationally advocated indicator systems used to monitor the situation of children, particularly in the developing world. Some, such as the Bristol approach, are criticized for having too strict a criterion for child deprivation.

  • Weisner, Thomas S. “Human Development, Child Well-Being, and the Cultural Project of Development.” New Directions for Child Development 81 (1998): 69–85.

    DOI: 10.1002/cd.23219988006

    For Weissner, “Well-being is the ability to successfully, resiliently, and innovatively participate in the routines and activities deemed significant by a cultural community” (p. 75). His ecologically grounded approach clearly differs from most definitions of child well-being and calls attention to the need for locally informed measures of child outcomes.

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