Feelings count: Measuring children’s subjective well-being

Children benefit from charities’ help in many ways, some of which are hard to measure. Hard outcomes, like improved academic attainment or reduced truanting rates, are objective and easier to recognise and capture than soft outcomes like improved self-esteem. But by only capturing hard outcomes we do not get the whole story.

Many charities work to improve subjective ‘well-being’. This refers to those intangible aspects of life, such as good peer and family relationships, self-esteem and resilience, that contribute to an individual’s happiness. By measuring improvements in children’s subjective well-being charities can prove their full impact in a way never done before.

NPC has developed a multi-dimensional questionnaire for charities to measure improvements in 11 to 16 year old children’s subjective well-being. This is done alongside the Children’s Society which is conducting a biannual national survey of children’s well-being. The Children’s Society nationally representative survey will provide a baseline which will allow charities to put their work in context.

The well-being measure is being piloted with five children’s charities and will be available for charities to use in 2010. This tool will help charities to prove that they add value, understand how they effect change, improve their services and track progress over time. In the future we hope to develop the well-being measure for other groups.

The NPC report On the bright side describes the stages of building and testing the first questionnaire which contained both subjective and objective well-being measures. The new version focuses on subjective well-being only but we anticipate charities using the questionnaire alongside other measures of impact.

 Subjective well-being is increasingly recognised by central government, local government and other partners as being vital for policy making and service provision. We wanted to create a tool that captures the child’s perspective.

Camilla Nevill, report author