Child Welfare

For Our Children – Unleashing the Joy: CDF’s Pursuit of Child Well-being

February 7, 2024 | National

Ten years ago this year, Ramesh Raghavan and Anna Alexandrova published research on child development in a scholarly article entitled, Toward a Theory of Child Well-Being. In the article, they document historical conceptualizations of child well-being, a policy history of the notion of child well-being, methods, and implications for measuring well-being, and–after reviewing several theories–posit one for adoption in the field. The two scholars, now teaching at New York University and the University of Cambridge, respectively, suggested:

A theory of child well-being can be articulated as follows. A child is doing well to the extent that she:

  1. Develops those stage-appropriate capacities that would, for all we know, equip her for successful future, given her environment.
  2. And engages the world in child-appropriate ways, for instance, with curiosity and exploration, spontaneity, and emotional security.

For nearly a decade, I’ve been blessed and challenged to wrestle with this definition: in partnership between the foundation I previously led and the social work school where Ramesh taught; in regional dialogue with child advocates and community organizers during the Ferguson uprising; in listening sessions and participatory action research with CDF Freedom Schools® Program parents, scholars, and servant leaders; and in strategic discernment with CDF’s board of directors and staff. Dr. Raghavan even joined us in November for Child Well-Being: A National Policy Forum as we launched our new policy agenda

Our expansive conversation with Children’s Defense Fund’s (CDF) constituents and bases of support has informed our view of child well-being, reflected in the Impact Statements of CDF’s Pathway to Change. We’re chasing an American future when we can see and say that:

  • Children and youth are thriving (growing and developing in stage-appropriate ways);
  • Children and youth have the resources they need to grow into successful adults; and
  • Children, especially Black and Brown children, can enjoy being children.

We are clear that young people will only live to their full potential with significant intervention and effort on our part.The responsibility to create the conditions for children and youth to thrive belongs to the community..

So, we went so far as to refresh our mission statement.

Children’s Defense Fund builds community so young people grow up with dignity, hope, and joy.

While the journey to children’s joy–marked by Ramesh and Anna with curiosity, exploration, spontaneity, and emotional security–will be long for many, I believe we will get a few glimpses along the way. Catching glimpses and paying attention to our guideposts will give us energy for the path ahead. So, each week, we’ll use this space to share more about our public policy agenda, core values, and, most importantly, the campaigns CDF team members are leading to unleash the joy in growing up.

We hope you will join us on the journey to joy!