Discover what child well-being is and how we measure it

Three teenage boys sitting on a wall

Our well-being research programme was initiated in 2005 to fill the gap in research regarding young people's views of their own well-being. Since then we have spoken to over 60,000 children over the last decade, asking them how their lives are going.

Working up and down the country we’ve heard from children on how they feel about many different aspects of their lives - from their happiness with life overall to how they feel about their friendships, appearance and school work. We use the insights that we gain from the children themselves to advocate for changes to policy and practice nationwide.

What is well-being?

Although definitions vary – and some feel that it is hard to define – there is broad agreement that well-being refers to the quality of people’s lives. It is about how well we are, and how our lives are going.

In our view, well-being may be best thought of as an umbrella term that can be measured via ‘baskets’ of indicators that together build up a picture of the quality of people’s lives. In this sense, measuring well-being can involve both ‘objective’ indicators – e.g. measures of health, education and poverty – and ‘subjective’ ones – people’s own assessments of how their lives are going.

Until recently, however, relatively little attention has been given to the latter. It was to fill this gap in our knowledge that we set up a programme of research with the University of York.

This research has developed a children’s well-being measure, the 'Good Childhood Index', which includes an overall measure of well-being as well as measures of ten different aspects of life that we know to be important to children’s overall well-being.

Why does it matter?

Measuring well-being is important because all children deserve to be happy with how their lives are going, and we can’t know if they are unless we ask them. Research into children’s well-being makes it possible for us to keep track of trends over time and variations in well-being between children, and to offer explanations for these differences.

Over the last few years we have been using our Good Childhood Index to regularly monitor children and young people's well-being, and we have been producing an annual state of the national report. This analysis can be used to inform policy and improve children’s lives.

We know from our research that children with low well-being are more likely to have problems in their lives including with their physical and mental health. It’s important for society as a whole that children have the right support around them - at home, at school, in their neighbourhood and beyond to make sure that every child has the opportunity to thrive.

From our work we know that around 5 to 10% of children in this country are experiencing low well-being (depending on the measure) and that children’s overall well-being is at the lowest it has been in recent years – and we think something needs to be done.

A national expert

In 2005 we established a research partnership with the University of York to fill a gap in knowledge on how children feel about their lives.

Each year our annual Good Childhood Report measures the well-being of children up and down the country and shines a light on children’s lives. This provides a definitive annual update on how they feel their lives are going. As part of this national programme of work for the Good Childhood Report, around 60,000 children have taken part to date.

*Since 2012, we have also undertaken local assessments of children’s well-being in 36 locations across England. More than 43,000 young people aged 8-18 have taken part in an online survey and a further 8,500 have been consulted in face-to-face consultations on how they feel about their lives.

What we’ve learnt

We’ve learnt a great deal about children’s well-being over the last decade, however children’s lives are complex and there is still more left to discover.

Listening to children and working hand-in-hand with them to make their lives better has been at the heart of our work.

The insight we hear from children through our extensive programme of research into children’s well-being provides important information, not only for the people directly in their lives - such as parents and professionals who work with children - but also local authorities and other agencies that can create real change to improve the well-being of children.

Our insight should inform those who make decisions about funding the services across the country there to support children.

We’ll fight with them to make their voices heard - for as long as it takes.

Read about the latest findings in our Good Childhood Report