Children and Society: A Global Scan of Child Well-Being

All children deserve to live healthy lives and experience positive well-being. Because well-being is dynamic, it is useful to draw on different contexts and experiences throughout the world to develop a comprehensive understanding of how well-being occurs and is sustained for all children, especially those who are disadvantaged and vulnerable because of poverty, immigration status, and discrimination.

The aim for this work was to understand the context that includes the norms, values, and conditions that underpin child well-being in various countries, with the intention of transferring and applying that knowledge to the United States. The purpose of the project is to focus on the “why” and the “how” of child well-being. This work builds on the vision of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Global Ideas for U.S. Solutions portfolio. Using an ecological, historical, and cross-national lens, the AIR team reviewed international data sources, literature, and research findings to produce knowledge to be utilized by the foundation, the foundation’s partners, and other human development organizations to advance equity and child well-being.

Study Results

In this study, we asked the question: How can a holistic concept of child well-being be advanced? We looked at examples of programs and policies that contribute to child well-being from six national contexts to provide insights. The issues we investigated include early childhood education in Australia, childhood obesity in Brazil, youth tobacco misuse in Canada, public education in Finland, youth suicide in Japan, and breastfeeding in South Africa.

The AIR team gained insights into how to promote well-being as a holistic concept. This includes:

  • Understanding the effect of income inequality on well-being;
  • How shared values can form the basis for collective action;
  • Strategies to change norms; and
  • The opportunity to capacitate citizens for action.

From the literature we reviewed and the case examples we studied, we were able to develop a theory of change: If more people are inspired to think holistically, have the capacity and opportunity to engage in change, are driven and supported by values and norms that contribute to a healthy and equitable society, then child well-being will be a realized American value.