• June 2012
  • Vol. 13, No. 5

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State Measures of Child Well-Being

A recent State-by-State comparison of measures of child well-being showed enormous variation across States and a picture of child well-being that differs from that found in national studies. In this report published by the Foundation for Child Development (FCD), authors William P. O'Hare, Mark Mather, and Genevieve Dupuis combined data from the KIDS COUNT Project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation with the methodology developed for FCD's Child Well-Being Index (CWI). The CWI has been produced every year since 2004 but only for the country as a whole, not for individual States.

The study used a broad quality-of-life measure based on 25 indicators of children's well-being to examine changes in child well-being from 2003 to 2007. The 25 indicators were clustered into seven domains including family economic well-being, health, safe/risky behavior, education attainment, community engagement, social relationships, and emotional/spiritual well-being. The authors set out to answer the following questions:

  1. Which States have the best child well-being?
  2. Which States performed best on each of the seven domains?
  3. Which States improved children's well-being the most from 2003 to 2007?
  4. What demographic factors, economic conditions, and public policies are associated with the States that exhibit higher levels of child well-being?

The analysis revealed drastic variation across States, indicating that a national landscape reveals very little about actual child well-being in the States. However, the data did denote a geographic pattern in which States in the South and Southwest show low rates of overall child well-being and States in the Northeast and Upper Midwest show higher rates of child well-being. No State ranked in the bottom 10 and no State ranked in the top 10 across all seven domains.

Findings included the following:

  • Thirty-three of the 50 States improved child well-being between 2003 and 2007.
  • The States with the most improvement were Hawaii, West Virginia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. The States with the greatest decline in child well-being were Connecticut, South Dakota, Kansas, and Maine.
  • Demographic factors most closely related to child well-being included adult educational attainment, health care coverage, and low levels of disabilities.
  • State policies most closely related to child well-being were State and local tax rates, per-pupil education funding, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits.

The implications of these findings for Federal support of children's programs also are discussed in the report.

Analyzing State Differences in Child Well-Being was funded by the FCD and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. It is available on the FCD website:

http://fcd-us.org/sites/default/files/Analyzing%20State%20Differences%20in%20Child%20Well-Being_0.pdf  (2 MB)


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