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Indicators Of Children's Well-Being


A coalition of groups concerned about improving the lives of Canada's children is borrowing a technique used for decades by finance ministers and big business to make investment decisions.

The groups are drawing up a Well Street Index, a list of 11 measures of how children are faring physically, emotionally and socially. The coalition believes that children's earliest years are the most crucial in shaping not only their futures, but also the future of Canada.

The Canadian Council on Social Development (CCSD), Voices for Children, the Centre for Studies of Children at Risk, the INTEGRA group (parents and teachers of children with learning disabilties) and the Scarborough public health department have developed a list of indicators and measures to persuade governments to set precise targets for improving each item, rather than small programs.

The index is inspired by a statement made at a child-welfare conference in Ottawa last fall by David Ross, director of CCSD:

" I'm putting forth a new perspective. I want to see the day when policy makers jump to worsening social conditions. Child poverty, teen-pregnancies, youth accidents, suicides, low-birth weight babies, children in care, family dysfunction, are important signs of our collective well-being. But, too often the only response to social statistics is that they are not reliable measures: the data are poor, the gatherers are self-interested and biased, the concepts are inadequate (what is poverty anyway?). Certainly, no one jumps to attention and starts shifting policy levers when social statistics come out". (Ross, 1996)

What they have almost finished producing is a set of measures - based on readily available statistics - that include the number of underweight babies born, the length of day-care waiting lists and rates of youth psychiatric problems, suicide and unemployment.

The following indicators, are proposed to be used to monitor and regulate national policy. They include:

1. The percentage of low birthweight babies

2. The teenage suicide rate

3. The length of waiting lists for subsidized day care.

4. The percentage of children arriving at kindergarten who are not ready to learn

5. The rate of psychiatric illnesses and suicides among children and teenagers

6. The rate of teenage births

7. High-school dropout rates.

8. The rate of unemployment among young people

9. The number of young people (15-20) convicted of crimes

10. The rate of risk-taking behaviours among teens, including drug and alcohol abuse and dangerous sexual behaviour

11. The incidence of child abuse, measured in cases confirmed by child-protection agencies.

According to Dr. Paul Steinhauer, chair of Voices for Children: "If these 11 indicators were combined, the result could constitute a Well Street Index, a quantifiable measure of the well-being of the children

and youth in Canadian society. If all levels of government made improving outcomes for children and youth a priority, and if governments used the Well Street Index to monitor the well-being of children along with those economic indicators that they already use to regulate their policies, many more children would get off to a good start."

The Well Street Index is to be published monthly, one index at a time, with detailed explanations of the direct impact of the item on the health of Canada's future economy. In the 12th month, a year-long

overview will be published, along with information on how poverty worsens each index item.

[much of the above is taken from The Globe & Mail Dec. 27, 1997]

For more information see:

The Canadian Council on Social Development :

Voices for Children Internet Web Site at

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In mid 1997 the Scarborough Health Department, in cooperation with a number of other groups compiled and prepared a report of a baseline of information on children of Scarborough aged 0-4 years. The report was developed to provide a base for measuring the progress of efforts made for young children and to present factors that impact on child development.

Framing Measures of Children's Health - Children's health and well-being are greatly affected by their every-day surroundings and the people who care for them. Children's health must be measured within the context of their family, community and the society in which they live. This report offers a diagram that places the child in the centre with the interplay of key elements such as a healthy physical start and child care.

Building Blocks of Healthy Development - Key factors in achieving essential skills for lifelong stability include:

- the ability to socialize and be open to learning

- age appropriate development

- the ability to behave in a socially acceptable manner

- physical and mental well-being

The Young Children of Scarborough report then focuses on data in the following categories:

- Distribution of children in Scarborough

- Parents of Scarborough Children 0-5 years

- Healthy Physical Start (birthweight, prematurity rate, breastfeeding)

- Continued Physical Health - hospitalizations

- Safety of Infants and young children (injury causes by age)

- Financial Security (welfare rates in metro)

- Adequate Housing & Food Security

- Social Support

- Child Care spaces

"A baseline measure provides a comparison with which to measure future efforts provided for young children. People from all sectors must work together to build a community that supports the health of young children."

Several other related reports are referred to by the Scarborough Health Department contacts:

- Regional Municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth has been using indicators to measure its general progress towards its vision of a sustainable community, ie., they are using indicators to measure whether all of its programs and policies together are making an impact.

(Virginia McLaren - Do Markers Motivate?)

- Campaign 200 produces Report Card 1996, an annual report on the state of child poverty in Canada and a report on Ontario's children's well-being. See

- Middlesex Health Unit, in collaboration with others in the London area, have produced a children's well-being report card. Contact 519-663-5317 x2480 Christian Kerestes.

For more information or copies of the Scarborough report contact:

Scarborough Health Department

Tel: 416-396-4228 Fax 416-396-5299


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A Step-By-Step Guide to Producing a Report Card on the Conditions of Children in Your Community

Based on the belief that one of the major stumbling blocks to improving conditions for children is the lack of awareness and information about children's well-being among the general public and policymakers, Children Now [U.S.] created in 1989 the tool now called a Report Card. For four years, Children Now has published "California: The State of Our Children Report Card" and accompanying "Briefing Book". Annually, the Report Card gauges California's progress in meeting children's needs and encourages actions to improve children's lives. The Report Card focuses on the whole child, rather than just one aspect of a child's interconnected life. It emphasizes results achieved for children by measuring outcomes, not merely efforts made on their behalf. The package of reports also explores what can be done to make the state a more welcome environment for children and families. The Report Card is based on the idea that thoughtfully conceived actions by a motivated citizenry eventually will become evident in improved results for children.

A Step-by Step Guide to Producing a Report Card

"Developing a Report Card involves a number of steps. First, you (the sponsoring organization or coalition) need to decide upon your specific goals for the Report Card with regard to greater public awareness, public education, changes in policies or programs. Next, you need to determine your audience. As you design the report, you will want to consider what information and messages are relevant to your goals and audience. Compiling the report then involves choosing measures of

children's well-being and gathering the data. Then, you will need to assess the data and develop an effective way to communicate your findings. Finally, you'll want to provide the reader with some guidance for responding to the problems and issues you raise in a way that is consistent with your organization's or coalition's agenda."

Children Now



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D. Ontario Report Calls for School Trustee "Report Cards"

Trustees need report cards, commission says

But new report also endorses boards and public education

By Peter Small Toronto Star Education Reporter-Dec 19

The province should create an annual `school board report card'' so taxpayers can see how well trustees are meeting local goals, say Ontario's education commissioners. `The board's performance report must be clear and easily understood and it must allow for comparisons with other boards, 'the Education Improvement Commission urges in a report to be released today. But in a ringing endorsement both of publicly funded education and elected school boards, the commission reaffirms the role of trustees as policy makers, watchdogs, employers and stewards of the public purse.

From School Leaders Digest [schldrs Digest] for 5 Jan 1998 - School Trustee Report Card