Why Defining Well-Being Matters
Institutional definitions of well-being are often narrow and focus on protection and harm. They risk missing what matters most to children, families, and communities. To meaningfully support well-being, we need to understand and build a definition of well-being around what it means for diverse children, families, and communities.
Indigenous families and communities define well-being as grounded in their relationships, teachings, values, and practices. Governments and institutions across Alberta mostly exist and work in parallel to such a way of being. That’s why it’s vital to centre the perspectives and values of culturally diverse communities when defining well-being for service and program provision.
Definition of Child and Youth Well-Being
We are excited to share what we learned through our collaboration with ALIGN Association of Community Services about how to define child and youth well-being across the continuum of Children’s Services in Alberta.
In collaboration with ALIGN agencies, Indigenous knowledge keepers and Elders, and youth, we identified four overlapping and intertwined foundational principles and seven domains of child and youth well-being relevant to the child welfare continuum in Alberta.
Multidimensional and interconnected. Child and youth well-being is holistic. It’s connected to culture and context.
Ecological and relational. Child and youth well-being is embedded in families and develops in relation to natural supports, communities, institutions, and broader environments.
Equitable access and social structures. Child and youth well-being is shaped by broader social structures that determine access to supports and opportunities.
Strengths-based and trauma-informed. Child and youth well-being is nurtured through developing protective factors and strengths. Recognizing and healing trauma are key.
Caring and stable relationships describe supportive, meaningful, and reciprocal relationships between children and their natural and formalized supports.
Supportive and safe environments describe children’s social and physical circumstances, including protective factors.
Sense of identity and autonomy describes a multifaceted and fluid sense of self as well as how a person is perceived by others.
Cultural connection describes a positive relationship to cultural identity.
Healthy development and growth encompass physical, emotional, cognitive, mental, and spiritual well-being at different ages and stages.
Connection to the land means cultivating relationships with the land, water, food sources, and the natural environment.
Meaningful knowledge can include formal and informal education and learning opportunities that are culturally responsive and safe.
We hope this work sparks continued conversation and deep reflection on how child welfare practice can best support children, youth, families, and communities in Alberta along their unique pathways to being well and thriving.