State-level Indicators for Social-emotional Development: Building Better Systems

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Research repeatedly suggests that experiences and skills acquired early in life have a long lasting effect. Many interventions that promote social-emotional well-being and preventing mental health problems in children and their caregivers are clinically sound and cost effective. Social-emotional well-being is also seen as a crucial determinant of school readiness, while school readiness is critical to educational and health outcomes. Research evaluating appropriate interventions and investigating the importance of school readiness makes a strong case for creating a system to monitor social-emotional development in the effort to improve the well-being of young children. Indicators are a key part of this monitoring system and promote accountability by providing decision-makers and researchers with information they need to understand and meet local and state needs, to assess the provision and quality of interventions, and to address gaps in services to young children and families.

The ability to track and assess social-emotional development of young children in a community poses a special challenge to policymakers. For many other areas within early childhood it is possible to understand the status and trends for child well-being at the population level. For instance, data on infant mortality, immunizations, and child welfare at the local, state and national level can be accessed to inform health promotion and prevention efforts. Currently, such multi-level data on social-emotional development for young children is not easily available. The challenge to quantify social-emotional wellness at a population level stems in part from the lack of universally accepted indicators and infrastructure for collecting information in this domain of child development

This report addresses the process of creating a system of indicators for social-emotional wellness, examines recent state experiences in this area, and describes a framework for moving forward in the development of social-emotional indicators for state policymakers.

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