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America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2017

Data Topics

The Forum on Child and Family Statistics recognizes the need to continuously review current indicators and monitor data topics to ensure that America's Children continues to be a valuable resource for policymakers and the general public. In order to highlight these activities and encourage public feedback, we have expanded the description of our ongoing data development work in this new section, "Data Topics."

This section follows the overall structure of the report and addresses data topics currently at some phase of assessment or development—either as an indicator, special feature, or some other future Forum product.

Family and Social Environment

The continually changing nature of children's lives creates many new variations and forms of family and living arrangements that may be challenging to describe in an indicator format using large national omnibus surveys. More data analysis and data presentation considerations are needed on the following topics:

  • Time use. Currently, no regular Federal data source examines time spent on the whole spectrum of children's activities. In 2003, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics began the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), which measures the amount of time teens spend doing various activities, such as paid work, childcare, volunteering, and socializing. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) provides information about the time 4th-, 8th-, and 12th-grade students spend on homework and internet use. ATUS and NAEP are promising sources that can help us to better understand aspects of youth time use.
  • Social connections and engagement. The formation of close attachments to family, peers, school, and community have been linked to healthy youth development in numerous research studies. While various federal surveys, such as those sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (including the National Household Education Surveys [NHES]) and other longitudinal studies programs contain important research information on these domains, they lack the periodicity needed to support a permanent America's Children indicator in this complex domain. More research is needed to either determine a more suitable indicator metric and data source, or to identify another indicator structure for data development.
  • Parental incarceration. An increasing body of research shows that children's overall health and well-being is adversely affected by parental incarceration. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) is currently addressing data on this topic.

Economic Circumstances

Economic security depends on the interaction of a range of financial measures; therefore, development of a composite measure is needed. While this year's report continues to provide information on poverty, income, and food security, additional measures are needed on the following:

  • Economic well-being. Economic well-being over time should be anchored in a broader range of financial health measures, rather than just annual income. Multiple measures of family income or consumption, some of which might incorporate estimates of family wealth and various assets, could produce more reliable estimates of changes in children's economic well-being over time. An additional consideration would be to examine the effect of local economic conditions, which could jeopardize or build economic well-being over time. The U.S. Census Bureau expects that the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) will provide valuable information about economic well-being.

Health Care

This report provides information on a limited number of key indicators on health care. Information on more comprehensive aspects of health care is needed in order to better understand the effect of health care on children's well-being. Additional measures are needed on the following:

  • Adequacy of health insurance coverage. This report contains information on whether children had health insurance coverage at the time of interview. Information is also needed on patterns of insurance coverage and on the characteristics of the child's insurance plan to determine whether the plan is adequate to meet health care needs. The SIPP may be able to provide information about source of insurance providers.

Physical Environment and Safety

More data than those presented in the current report are needed to better understand and monitor children's physical environment and safety. Additional information is needed on the following:

  • Exposure to violence. Research suggests that witnessing violence can have detrimental effects similar to the effects of being a direct victim of violence. BJS and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention are developing new survey topics. BJS continues to evaluate these new data as potential sources for future indicators relating to exposure to violence.
  • Homelessness. The scope of information on unsheltered and sheltered homelessness among households with children has improved significantly through the use of homeless service providers' administrative data found in the Annual Homeless Assessment Reports from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Another HUD initiative seeks to develop survey methods to measure housing insecurity among those housed. NCES has just published new data on homelessness and housing disruptions in the report Condition of Education 2017. These studies offer new information about children lacking stable housing.

Behavior

Data that more adequately monitor the behaviors of youth are of interest to agencies. For example, agencies may explore the following topics further:

  • Activities promoting health and development. Youth participation in a broad range of activities (e.g., volunteering, part-time employment, after-school activities) has been associated with positive developmental outcomes. Additional research is needed to ascertain how such activities relate to success in later life. The Forum is currently considering the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) and the Environmental Protection Agency's Exposure Factors Handbook as potential sources for future indicators that can broaden our understanding of this topic.
  • Youth in the justice system. The youth perpetrators of serious violent crime indicator has been updated in this year's America's Children report. However, the Forum is considering ways to enhance this indicator by incorporating data from the Indicators of School Crime and Safety report. Recent data from this report have addressed such critical information as the involvement of youth in the justice systems and the characteristics of youthful offenders. These data come from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Also, BJS may explore additional data sources that contain data on the number and characteristics of youth arrestees and detainees prosecuted in both juvenile and adult courts, and in the Nation's jails, prisons, and juvenile facilities.

Education

It is vital to understand children's early development because what children experience at that stage has lasting implications for the rest of their lives. The Forum has specifically addressed the area of social emotional development among young children through a contract awarded to Child Trends; deliverables for this project are posted on the childstats.gov website.

  • Early childhood development. Although this report offers indicators of young children's exposure to reading and early childhood education, a regular source of data is needed to track the cognitive, emotional, and social skills of preschoolers and young children over time. The NHES was updated in 2016 to include several measures of young children's learning and development. Due to limited periodicity for the NHES, new survey questions may be more suitable for special features in the America's Children report.

Health

Identifying key dimensions of health can be challenging due to the difficulties in reaching consensus on relevant definitions and measurements.

  • Disability. There is longstanding interest in developing an improved measure of child disability based on the functional difficulties experienced by children. Survey data from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are collected annually and provide information on participants by student characteristics, nature of the disability, and the child's environment. Agencies are currently assessing the suitability of these survey data to support future indicators.

Taken together, these developmental efforts reflect both near-term objectives and long-term strategy in maintaining the value of America's Children. We welcome feedback in terms of these specific initiatives as well as on the value of the full America's Children report.