The presenters were Robert Goerge and Mairéad Reidy of Chapin Hall, Steve Heasley of the West Virginia Governor's Cabinet on Children and Families, and Larry Aber of the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) at Columbia University. The purpose of the session was to update the states on the international project "Measuring and Monitoring Children's Well-Being."
Robert Goerge introduced the session. He mentioned a new book from Kluwer, Measuring and Monitoring Children's Well-Being, that he wrote with Asher Ben-Arieh and others. Ben-Arieh, of Israel's National Council for the Child, is a leader in the international effort. He addressed the indicators group at an earlier meeting.
At the last meeting, representatives of five states--Vermont, New York, Georgia, West Virginia, and Minnesota--met with Ben-Arieh. These states continue to be interested in working with the international project, but lack the time to do so immediately.
Goerge went on to say that the international project has gone on to refine what it wants to examine and to raise money. In February, representatives of Chapin Hall, NCCP, and the National Council for the Child met with European researchers in Vienna. Attendees agreed that Chapin Hall and NCCP would lead the U.S. portion of the international effort. They also decided that Ben-Arieh would conduct a survey in Israel that would attempt to measure some of the agreed upon indicators. The German Youth Institute will try to collect data on the relevant indicators as part of their large survey of youth slated for the following year. Other data collections and pilot tests are sought.
Reidy summarized the work of the Vienna meeting. In general,
- The initial focus will be on children 6 to 14 years of age, to be later extended to 18-year-olds
- Data from the children's perspective will be preferred
- Data will be eligible for consideration if at least one domain is explored
- Data at all levels (city, county, etc.), are welcome
- Longitudinal commitment is desirable but not mandatory
- Data will be owned by original researchers but will be available through a clearinghouse mechanism to others for international and cross-site comparisons
The international group seeks valid measures for indicators in five domains (see below). Of particular value are measures that have been validated across cultures. They anticipate the need to innovate and revise their protocol in response to the measures and research programs they uncover.
The Five Domains
Reidy sketched the five domains, the potential indicators that might provide information within those domains, and other conclusions regarding them. These are presented in her Powerpoint presentation, which follows. Reidy said that much work has been done already in different countries relevant to some domains. For example, the personal life domain, particularly the academic skills and resources section, figures into a lot of international research on literacy, numeracy, technical knowledge, and general knowledge. She cited a number of relevant studies, including the Definition and Selection of Competencies Project, now underway, that aims to identify those competencies needed for individuals to lead a successful and responsible life.
Reidy noted some of the challenges facing the project. These included the development of proxy measures, ensuring that the relevant information can be obtained affordably, and getting child-specific context for indicators. Reidy stressed that the Vienna meeting forced participants to think about how they can find new measures and definitions. As an example, she said that measures of literacy might need to be expanded to include media competency or technical literacy.
In response to a question on how the international group would track child labor, Reidy replied that child labor is part of the economic contributions and resources domain. Aber added that the issue, although important, did not get special attention from those working on the project, in part because they tend to come from countries with advanced economies. He went on to say that UNICEF is very concerned about this issue. Goerge pointed out that the group was formed in part to do what UNICEF is not doing, that is, to look at children in developed nations.
Zero to Five Years
When asked why the population of interest begins with six-year-olds rather than those younger, Goerge said that they wanted information from the children themselves and felt that it might be difficult to get information from children younger than six.
Sense of Connection with School and Family
A questioner wanted to know if the international work would build on the findings from an adolescent health study in the U.S. that indicated the importance of a sense of connection with school and family. Aber replied that this idea, although not part of current plans, was welcome.
Are Other Nations Using Indicators in Policy?
In response to a question about international appetites for the use of indicators in policy, Aber said that his sense was that Europe is behind the U.S. in measuring things and ahead of the U.S. in doing things. Mairéad added that the European Community has put a lot of resources into collecting data across countries and there is a lot of publicity when those data come out. Aber and Reidy discussed the availability of data on populations in Ireland and the U.K.
Government and Non-government Involvement
In answer to a question about the involvement of government researchers, Aber said that any chance of bringing this effort to scale would require national data collections. The questioner asked if the European partners included government staff members. He was told, "No," but that the effort aimed to develop products compelling to governments.
J. Lawrence Aber
Aber said that, in part, his involvement in the project grew from a desire to use the tools to be developed and the comparisons possible to help understand change in this country. Goerge added that he felt most of those involved in the project were concerned first with situations in their own countries. He said this difference was underlined by the name "multi-national" that the project is beginning to use, rather than "international."