Engaging migrant communities in the promotion of the rights of the child


Home 9 Child development and wellbeing 9 5.2 Child wellbeing

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By the end of this module you will be able to:

  • Define the concept of child wellbeing
  • Describe the components of child wellbeing
  • Use the OECD framework of child wellbeing measurement as a reference to evaluate the impact of child protection policies

Children have a right to wellbeing. Their current and future quality of life matters. Children have a right to feel loved, valued, supported, and cared for. They have a right to enjoy the best possible health, education, and childhood. Ensuring children’s wellbeing is the final scope of child protection systems, although its interpretation may vary across cultures, social contexts, and organisations. A variety of child wellbeing definitions were found in the academic literature (each definition acknowledges that child wellbeing is a multi-faceted idea made up of inter-related factors at the individual, family, community, and societal levels) and most of them describe it as quality of life (The Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action, 2019:3). This description includes both their current situation and their prospects for future development. Childhood is a critical time for growth and development, and the things that children do, learn, feel, and experience matter, for their present but also for their future. Childhood living conditions and the ways children develop leave deep impressions that may affect their lives for years to come. Overwhelming evidence attests to the importance of children’s wellbeing in shaping who they are, how they behave, and what they do when they grow up.

However, as simple as this concept may sound, there is no unique, universally accepted way of defining and measuring child wellbeing. The lack of it limits child protection actors’ efforts to set common objectives and ground across programs, contexts, and broader systems.

Key factors or domains that contribute to child wellbeing are also debated and may vary according to the child’s developmental stage, gender, disability, and more. Most of the existing frameworks include sector-specific domains that guarantee child survival such as health, basic needs (housing, nutrition, material resources), and safety. Many others complement these domains with more holistic measures of child wellbeing, including psychosocial wellbeing, relationships, participation, community context, and subjective wellbeing measures.

The OECD framework of child wellbeing measurement

Several dimensions of child wellbeing have been identified to cover the major aspects of children’s lives. Most of them are enshrined in legal binding frameworks, have roots in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and are included in child protection systems. Since children’s wellbeing is a multifaceted phenomenon, it requires a diversified set of measures to monitor their quality of life and development. Children’s wellbeing is also tightly related to and embedded in their environment including family, school, community, neighbourhood, and policy environment, which poses numerous challenges for monitoring and evaluation.

In recent decades, many countries have developed wellbeing frameworks and indicator sets to help formalise and improve the measurement of wellbeing. In 2011, the OECD established a framework comprising eleven dimensions for measuring wellbeing from a policy perspective (see below). The identified dimensions relate to the material conditions that shape people’s economic options (Income and Wealth, Housing, Work and Job Quality) and quality-of-life factors that encompass how well people are (and how well they feel they are), what they know and can do, and how healthy and safe their places of living are (Health, Knowledge and Skills, Environmental Quality, Subjective Wellbeing, Safety). Quality of life also encompasses how connected and engaged people are, and how and with whom they spend their time (Work-Life Balance, Social Connections, Civic Engagement).

The OECD Well-being Framework

International organisations and child protection actors also tried to develop child wellbeing measurement frameworks and initiatives applicable at the cross-national level. Specifically, UNICEF was the first UN agency to take concrete actions in this field of research, establishing an influential approach to cross-national child wellbeing comparisons.

In July 2021, the OECD published a policy report, presenting an “aspirational” framework for child wellbeing measurement, setting out how child wellbeing should ideally be measured and how it can serve as a medium to long-term roadmap for the improvement of child wellbeing data collections (OECD, 2021). It provides a renewed structure and set of guidelines detailing what aspects of children’s lives need to be taken into consideration, and how they need to be measured to fully monitor child wellbeing and its determinants.

The OECD aspirational child well-being measurement framework

Source: OECD (2021), Measuring What Matters for Child Well-being and Policies, OECD Publishing, p. 37.

The starting point for this framework is a concept of child wellbeing that is multi-dimensional (encompassing a range of aspects of children’s lives) and forward-looking. Its roots are related to the idea that children should be able to both enjoy a good and positive childhood and can develop skills and abilities that set them up well for the future.

Since the importance of the environment and setting in which children grow up is widely recognised, the OECD child-centered framework, in line with UNICEF (UNICEF, 2020), adopts a multi-level or “ecological” structure, covering both child wellbeing outcomes and potential drivers and influences.

Analysing in detail the structure of the measurement framework:

  • Level A refers to children’s wellbeing outcomes that are at the center of the framework, surrounded by a series of drivers and influences (see above)
  • Level B covers child-level influences including children’s activities, attitudes, behaviours, and relationships that can contribute to their wellbeing outcomes
  • Level C represents the environment-level influences, including aspects of children’s settings and environments that can impact their wellbeing, either directly or indirectly. This level takes into consideration also children’s family, home environments, school and childcare settings and services, and their wider physical and community environments.
  • Level D covers child-relevant public policies, such as public family and housing policies and public health policies.

In terms of thematic content, the framework focuses on child wellbeing outcomes in four core areas, which are inter-related (see above):

  • Material outcomes related to children’s access to material resources, including basic needs like food, clothing and housing, but also other material goods and services (e.g. learning materials, laptop, internet, toys, pocket money, etc). Child material wellbeing goes far beyond just ensuring that children’s subsistence needs are met. To flourish and thrive, children need to have access to products/services that allow them to learn and develop, to engage with peers and adults, and to be connected and accepted within the societies in which they live.
  • Physical health outcomes, which cover children’s physical health status and physical development, given their circumstances.
  • Social, emotional, and cultural outcomes related to children’s behaviours, emotions, thoughts and feelings towards themselves and others, and socio-cultural identities. This area covers many subjective aspects of children’s wellbeing, ranging from basic emotional security and children’s sense of safety to their sense of identity and social identity (including sexual, gender and cultural identities), their sense of belonging, and their over-arching life satisfaction. It also covers children’s socio-emotional skills, mental health status, and psychological wellbeing.
  • Cognitive development and education outcomes related to children’s learning, knowledge, cognitive development, skills, progression through the education system, ability development and their level of satisfaction with what they learn.

Other innovative key-features of the framework include:

  • Measurement of child wellbeing is sensitive to the children’s age and their stage of development
  • Emphasis on the children’s own voices, and a belief that children’s views and perspectives should be reflected throughout the measurement process wherever possible, including both the indicators design and selection stage (to reflect what matters most to children themselves), and in the measures themselves, through the use of self-report and subjective child data
  • Focus not just on average levels of wellbeing, but also to the distribution of wellbeing across children through measures that reflect inequalities and disparities across different groups of children (e.g. by sex, by living arrangement, and by migrant background). Wherever possible, measures should also be flexible and responsive to the needs and challenges faced by children from diverse backgrounds and in different or vulnerable positions (e.g. children with disabilities, children in out-of-home care, children experiencing maltreatment).

The OECD framework innovates on child wellbeing measurement in several ways. Its multilevel structure helps to clarify the importance of children’s activities, relationships, environments, and other potential influences of child wellbeing, emphasising that these potential drivers are distinct from children’s wellbeing outcomes. Additionally, through the emphasis it places on age-sensitive concepts and measures, it pays greater attention to the changing nature of children’s needs through childhood. In conclusion, focusing on children’s voices, it strives to ensure that children’s own thoughts, views and perspectives are taken into consideration across all stages of child wellbeing measurement.


OECD, Measuring What Matters for Child Wellbeing and Policies, OECD Publishing, Paris, 2021. Accessed on 05.02.2022 from: https://doi.org/10.1787/e82fded1-en


The Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action (2019), Desk Review on Child Wellbeing in Humanitarian Action. Definitions, Concepts and Domains


UNICEF (2020), Worlds of Influence. Understanding What Shapes Child Wellbeing in Rich Countries, Unicef Innocenti Research Center. Accessed on 07.02.2022 from: https://www.unicef.org/media/77571/file/Worlds-of-Influence-understanding-what-shapes- child-well-being-in-rich-countries-2020.pdf