Freedom From, Freedom to: Rethinking Child Well-Being in the Child Protection Context
In our latest paper ‘Human Capital, Child Well-being, and Child Protection’, we propose a framework that adds human capital and human capital formation to the list of outcomes child welfare agencies should think about when their attention turns to child well-being.
As a focal issue in policy and practice, child well-being has been an explicit part of the conversation in the United States since roughly 1997, following passage of the Adoption and Safe Families Act. In the ensuing years, more and more regulatory language has been devoted to the well-being of children interacting with the child welfare system. With that said, relatively little attention has been paid to the idea of well-being beyond the negative consequences maltreatment has on the development of children. Insofar as maltreatment has broad effects on the well-being of children, young people clearly need to be protected from adverse childhood experiences. However, protecting children from adversity is but one side of a two-sided developmental coin. Children must be both free from adversity and free to develop. Freedom from adversity speaks to the impediments that stand in the way of development; freedom to contemplates a developmental, forward looking process more explicitly. Children are children but not for long when a life course perspective is applied.
Human capital and human capital formation, we argue, offer a conceptual language for bringing greater focus to well-being as an inherently developmental construct. In short, children should be free from adverse experiences that interfere with their freedom to develop the human capital needed to manage life course transitions, from the very earliest days onward.