Family and Social Environment
While many surveys provide detailed information on children's families, caregivers, and social environments, the continually changing nature of social life creates many new variations and forms that cannot adequately be addressed with large national omnibus surveys. More detailed data are needed on the following topics:
- Family structure. Increasing the detail of information collected about family structure and improving the measurement of cohabitation and family dynamics were among the key suggestions for improvement emerging from two "Counting Couples" workshops cosponsored by the Forum in 2001 and 2003. In 2010, the Office of Management and Budget established an Interagency work group, Measuring Relationships in Federal Household Surveys (MRFHS), to examine the current practices of the Federal agencies for collecting, editing, and reporting data on relationships and marriage, with special focus on statistical surveys that are widely used. Its recommendations are being used to implement changes to survey questions that will help to capture and describe children's increasingly complex family configurations and living arrangements.
- Time use. Currently, some Federal surveys collect information on the amount of time children spend on certain activities such as watching television and on participation rates in specific activities or care arrangements, but no regular Federal data source examines time spent on the whole spectrum of children's activities. In 2003, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics began the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), which measures the amount of time people spend doing various activities, such as paid work, childcare, volunteering, and socializing. The survey includes responses from persons ages 15 and older. Since the numbers of observations for older youth are small, the data cannot be published separately for each year. ATUS data may be included in future America's Children reports as a regular indicator as more years of data become available. Forum agencies continue to be interested in the inclusion of time use questions for youth in other surveys, as appropriate.
- Social connections and engagement. The formation of close attachments to family, peers, school, and community have been linked to healthy youth development in numerous research studies. Additional research needs to be conducted to strengthen our understanding of how these relationships promote healthy development and protect youth from risks that, in turn, affect later life success. We currently lack regular indicators on aspects of healthy development, such as relationships with parents and peers, connections to teachers and school engagement, resilience when confronted with difficulties, and civic or community involvement.