ACYF Framework for Social and Emotional Well-Being

There are various constructs, or frameworks, that have been designed to present, in an easily understood fashion, how both healthy and impaired functioning affects children across multiple domains of their lives and relates directly to how they interact with others and function on a daily basis.  Many of these frameworks describe "domains of functioning" that have some commonality or overlap with other constructs.

The framework developed by the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF) focuses on social and emotional well-being.  The framework, which is adapted from the research of Lou, Anthony, Stone, Vu, & Austin (2008), establishes four well-being domains across which a child's functioning can be assessed, and provides for flexibility and refinement, depending on the age and developmental level of the child.  For instance, independent living skills are indicators of well-being only for older youth.  The framework’s purpose is to present a way for child welfare agencies to understand and promote well-being that is aligned with ACYF’s overall focus on system change, and, as such:

  • Engages in continuous quality improvement (CQI) of child/youth functioning
  • Takes a proactive approach to social and emotional needs
  • Uses developmentally specific interventions
  • Focuses on child and family outcomes
  • Promotes healthy relationships for children and youth

In their research, Lou et al. found that some of the existing well-being frameworks were either too focused on deficits or did not account for the child’s resilience or environmental supports.  ACYF’s framework addresses these concerns, incorporating two intermediate outcome domains, “environmental supports” and “personal characteristics,” into the overall framework to illustrate factors that may influence a child’s ability, positively or negatively, to cope with trauma.  Environmental supports include family income, family social capital, and community factors such as neighborhood.  Personal characteristics include the child's temperament, cognitive ability, identity development, and self-concept.  The various factors within these two intermediary domains are related to the child’s protective and coping factors.

Well-Being Domains

The four Well-Being Domains of the ACYF framework are:

  • Cognitive functioning, which includes competencies such as language development, approaches to learning, problem-solving skills, academic achievement, school engagement, and school attachment
  • Physical health and development, which incorporates the normative standards for growth and development, gross and fine motor skills, overall health, and risk-avoidance behavior related to health
  • Emotional/behavioral functioning, which includes competencies such as self-control, emotional management and expression, internalizing and externalizing behaviors, trauma symptoms, self-esteem, emotional intelligence, self-efficacy, motivation, prosocial behavior, positive outlook, and coping
  • Social functioning, which is defined by social competencies, attachment and caregiver relationships, social skills, and adaptive behavior

The components that make up these domains directly relate to how children live their day-to-day lives, or how they deal with frustrations, cope with tasks and responsibilities, and interact with others.  In addition, the ACYF framework assesses functioning across the domains according to the child’s age and developmental stage, as per these four stages:

  • Infancy (0-2)
  • Early childhood (3-5)
  • Middle childhood (6-12)
  • Adolescence (13-18)