Saturday, 13 September 2014

Promoting well-being and happiness

Will promotion of happiness benefit individuals, but also communities and nations as whole?  There has been a recent trend of  moving away from negative aspects of life towards a more positive approach of assessing well-being.  In the recent joint publication by the Local Government Improvement and Development Agency and the independent think tank New Economics Forum (NEF) called ‘The Role of Local Government in Promoting Wellbeing’ (2010) it is argued that: “The front-line staff employed by local government should be seen as wellbeing advocates – an important channel of communication with local residents and communities” Does this mean therefore that in Scotland (for example) social workers and teachers can act as well-being advocates by using the GIRFEC (2008) model even though many Local Authority social workers are mostly occupied of working with those ‘at risk’ or being considered as ‘vulnerable’.  The essential crisis intervention work is a fundamental function of any community. The danger of focusing mainly upon people in crisis is that it shifts the focus away from the well-being of the rest of the public. The Role of Local Government in Promoting Wellbeing (2010) publications support this view by stating that: “Focusing continually on those labelled as ‘at risk’ or ‘vulnerable’ can undermine the psychological and social wellbeing of those individuals and their communities.” In other words, should we learn more about why some people’s sense of well-being is stronger than others’ and try to promote the ‘golden formula‘ of these happy people rather than exhaust our energy in crisis intervention work? Very loaded questions indeed, but perhaps worthwhile to be explored further.

The Role of Local Government in Promoting Wellbeing (2010) document proposes that one effective way to promote well-being is by “Empowering staff to act on ideas they develop through their contact with members of the public.”  I will therefore conclude that children services workers need to continue to assist vulnerable children by assessing their needs but also by celebrating their existing well-being and happiness. 

However well-being and happiness are issues that might evoke difficult emotions and this is a particularly important consideration when working with vulnerable children and young people. For example, how can we ask a vulnerable young person about their subjective well-being and feelings of happiness in a safe way? I believe that age appropriate ways of doing this need to be used. For example,  drawings, observations and play can offer alternatives to verbal communication. In all situations consideration of the most appropriate communication method should be based on the individual child’s needs and circumstances.

The Scottish GIRFEC model is mainly used by social workers and teachers aiming to improve outcomes for children and young people who are often from troubled backgrounds. Is it acceptable to leave these practitioners to judge how effective the GIRFEC model is in terms of improving well-being outcomes? Or should we directly ask young people to evaluate their well-being over period of time despite the fact that this might evoke difficult emotions? Should young people be offered opportunity to express their feelings and should someone measure changes in these feelings over time? What are the benefits of collecting comparable data in this nature? One might argued that this would assist the design process of effective policies that are aimed to improve children and young people’s well-being and happiness.   Knowing what threatens happiness at the individual level might provide knowledge that would allow policy makers and practitioners to minimise these factors.

Perhaps by promoting well-being and happiness require further studies. By promoting a sense of well-being might provide the resources for children and young people in our communities to be more confident and resilient to cope with everyday life situations.  This might be one practical way of promoting well-being and prevent crisis situations occurring in the first instance.


Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) programme (2008). Scottish Government. Edinburgh: Scotland.(

NEF (2010).’ The role of local government in promoting wellbeing.’ Local Government Improvement and Development and NEF. London, England: The New Economics Foundation.

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