“Louisiana Child Distress”

Playing with Louisiana’s “child well-being” data from the 80s reminds me now that we in Louisiana have made little progress in the overall condition of our children. In fact, I believe “well-being” is the wrong word to use regarding Louisiana’s children!

When we use “well-being” to describe the condition of Louisiana’s children relative to other states (and countries), we misuse the word “well-being” and risk deluding ourselves to the detriment of our children.

Consider the KIDS COUNT project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “KIDS COUNT is a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and a premier source of data on children and families. Each year, the Foundation produces a comprehensive report — the KIDS COUNT Data Book — that assesses child well-being in the United States.”

KIDS COUNT will not tell you this, but I have tallied the history rank of Louisiana’s children during the 30 years of KIDS COUNT Data Books. This is the chart:

Louisiana holds the 30-year average rank of 49th among the states. 49th for 30 years is NOT “well-being.” Rather, it is the opposite of well-being. (Can you imagine the uproar if LSU ranked next to last for 30 years?)

How should one think about this? I suggest the top 25 ranked states present a continuum of well-being, and the bottom 25 ranked states are a continuum of the opposite. The bottom 25 range from average well-being to the very opposite of well-being.

So, what IS the opposite of well-being? Bad-being? Ill-being?

Merriam-Webster defines well-being this way: “the state of doing well, especially in relation to one’s happiness or success.”

I am biased, perhaps, by my 30-year child welfare perspective. Still, when I consider Louisiana’s children, the word “distress” comes to my mind. The opposite of well-being seems to be distress.

Standard antonyms of “well-being” include unhealthiness, unsoundness, misery, sadness, suffering, unhappiness, wretchedness, and ill-being. Together, these all sound like distress.

Are we duping ourselves with an unintentional euphemism when we speak about the well-being of Louisiana’s children? Would it not be more accurate to say “child distress”?

Try it. Say aloud, “Louisiana child well-being.” Now say, “Louisiana child distress.” Does it spark a difference for you? It matters what words we use. Words create perceptions. We cannot use misleading language when describing the condition of Louisiana’s children.

If a state ranks among the top 25 for the condition of its children, let it use “child well-being.” Otherwise, if the condition of a state’s children ranks it among the bottom 25, use “child distress.”

Call It What It Is

It is time we in Louisiana use the correct words, and in so doing, draw focused attention to the long history of child distress in our state. I will be intentional and replace “child well-being” with “child distress” when describing the condition of Louisiana’s children.

I believe using the proper word will help me appreciate the important work our organization is doing on behalf of children and families. Especially those drowning in the deep end of child distress in Louisiana.

Rick Wheat, November 17, 2019
President & CEO
Louisiana United Methodist Children and Family Services


Other Messages: