From Welfare To Wellbeing

Michael Yates

Michael Yates, Project Director for State Contracts including ASAP, FOCUS, PATH and Home Study

I’ve been thinking a lot about welfare lately. Specifically, public child welfare. From my mother I developed an interest in words, how they are pronounced and what they mean. The root of the word “welfare” is, simply, “to fare well,” or as Webster’s defines, “a condition of health, happiness, and comfort.” But I think more recently the word welfare has been hijacked by a secondary definition, that is: “those governmental agencies concerned with granting aid to those suffering from poverty, unemployment, etc.” More to the point, “welfare” now conjures visual images & notions of governmental aid to those unemployed and stuck in poverty. The word “welfare” has drifted from faring well and has washed up on a shore of negative connotations.

Well, think about it. Poverty. Unemployment. Dependency. Just to name a few. Words of this kind convey images and do nothing to benefit the world of public child welfare – certainly not during these times when highly energized debates flourish over the use of tax dollars – debates that force greater polarization between people.

In contrast, Bryan Samuels, the Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, recently placed emphasis on wellbeing with respect to child safety, development, and care.

“Wellbeing.” Now there’s a word that elicits movement toward a healthy, positive regard for the human condition … it is, simply, being well. And that is what public servants for children and families should be supporting, a positive regard for children being well.

Language shapes our thoughts and feelings; it even shapes our beliefs. Our responsibility to serve children and families being well necessitates a heightened positive regard for our use of language and the influence it has on us and the focus of our efforts.

So, perhaps now is the time to loosen our hold of language suited for older paradigms shaped by welfare dependence and talk differently about our children through the advancement of their wellbeing? Perhaps now is a good time to speak differently, so we think differently, and ultimately, act differently. Together, we are part of the public child wellbeing system, and as such, we are promoting healthy growth, safe development, and a positive regard for the children we serve and for the system in which we function.

Published on August 27, 2012 by .
Posted in Advocacy and Support