Building an index of well-being for children living in Ireland: conceptual, measurement and policy considerations

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Hickey, Claire
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University College Cork
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This study conceptualised and measured children’s well-being in Ireland and considered how such conceptualisations and approaches to the measurement of well-being might inform social policy for children and families living in Ireland. This research explored what is meant by children’s well-being and how it can be conceptualised and measured so as to reflect the multi-dimensionality of the concept. The study developed an index of well-being that was both theoretically and methodologically robust and could be meaningfully used to inform social policy developments for children and their families. For the first time, an index of well-being for children was developed using an explicitly articulated unifying theory of children’s well-being. Moreover, for the first time an index of wellbeing was developed for 13-year old children living in Ireland using data from Wave 2 of the national longitudinal study of children. The Structural Model of Child Well-being (SMCW), the theoretical framework that underpins the development of this study’s index, offers a comprehensive understanding of well-being. The SMCW builds on, and integrates, a range of already-established theories concerning children’s development, their agency, rights and capabilities into a unifying theory that explains well-being in its entirety. This conceptualisation of well-being moves beyond the narrow focus on child development adopted in some recent studies of children’s well-being and which perpetuate individualised and self-responsibilising conceptualisations of well-being. This study found that the SMCW can be meaningfully applied, both theoretically and operationally, to the construction of an index of well-being for children. While it was not the purpose of this study to validate the SMCW, in the process of developing the index, I concluded that there was a theoretical ‘fit’ between the conceptual orientation of the SMCW and the wider children’s well-being literature. The ‘nested’ structure of the SMCW facilitated the identification of domains, sub-domains and indicators of well-being reflecting typical conventions of index construction. The findings from the resulting index, in both its categorical and continuous forms, demonstrated how a comprehensive theory of well-being can be used to illustrate how children are faring and which children are experiencing poorer or better well-being. Furthermore, this study demonstrated how the SMCW and the resultant index can be meaningfully used to support the implementation and review of the national policy framework for children and young people in Ireland.
Well-being , Children , Indices , Measurement , Social policy , Individualisation , Concepts of well-being , Structural model of child well-being , Growing up in Ireland
Hickey, C. 2016. Building an index of well-being for children living in Ireland: conceptual, measurement and policy considerations. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.