• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Wednesday 11th March, 2009

Obama urged to get interstate statistical act together

The US is ahead of the UK in its efforts to base measurements of child well-being on the multidimensional models represented in recent research, but US statisticians are still worried about the lack of consistency and are urging the Obama administration to improve interstate cooperation.A new report from the Child Trends research center in Washington DC says there is much room for improvement and modernization; certain domains of child well-being continue to be poorly measured or sidelined altogether. The shortcomings are particularly marked in relation to socio-emotional development and positive behavior such as social competence, school engagement, hope and spiritual health. The writers say contextual factors such as peer and neighborhood influences are also overlooked and very few data-gathering methods have been properly trialled in the cross-cultural settings where they are routinely used. Brett Brown and Kristin Anderson Moore make the point that, historically, data collection has followed a “deficit model,” focusing on more familiar aspects of health and poverty. It has yet to incorporate contemporary notions of well-being or to capture aspects of positive behavior.Their report “What Gets Measured Gets Done,” was commissioned by the US Annie E. Casey Foundation, with the aim of influencing the new administration. It stresses the value of strong data at national and state level for developing, targeting and monitoring policies and programs for children and youth. The authors say the key is a systematic and sustained effort across state boundaries. At the moment it is non-existent. “Over the last decade or more, states have been called upon to take on a progressively greater levels of responsibility for the design and implementation of programs to promote the well-being of children within their borders,” they observe. But data collection and quality have not kept pace. The report recommends bolstering the Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, the poorly-funded body that currently links federal government policy on child data. It should construct a cohesive strategy for developing new and improved measures that could be tested within existing surveys, before being rolled out nationally. [For more about equivalent difficulties in the UK, see: Well-being is all very well – but what does it mean exactly? and UK researchers set small area standard for child well-being.See: Brown, B and Moore K A (2009), “What Gets Measured Gets Done: High priority opportunities to improve our nation’s capacity to monitor child and youth well-being,” Child Trends, Washington DC.

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