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Unicef: Understanding What Shapes Child Well-being in Rich Countries

Unicef: Understanding What Shapes Child Well-being in Rich Countries

September 8, 2020


On 3 September, Unicef organised a webinar to discuss the results of a recently published report entitled “Worlds of Influence – Understanding What Shapes Child Well-being in Rich Countries”. The report analysed children’s experiences against the backdrop of their country’s policies and social, educational, economic and environmental contexts.

Based on evidence from high-income Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and/or European Union (EU) countries, the authors produced an international ranking of child wellbeing, based on indicators of mental and physical health and social/academic skills. Overall, The Netherlands ranked highest out of 38 countries, followed by Denmark and Norway. Ireland ranked 12th, having performed particularly well in the sub-area of skills, but having been placed in the bottom third of ranking in mental health.

The report sees those child outcomes as being influenced by the world of the child, the world around the child and the world at large. First, the world of the child includes the child’s activities and relationships, such as those with family and peers. The findings show that children with more supportive families have better mental well-being and that many children feel that they lack opportunities to participate in decisions at home and at school. In addition, bullying by peers remains a serious problem. Second, the world around the child consists of resources and networks. The study clarifies how the lack of resources affects children’s wellbeing through poverty, not having books at home and not having access to appropriate play and leisure facilities to play outside in their neighbourhoods.

The third level of analysis looks at policies and context. Policies refer to national programmes that directly affect children, including education, health and social policies. The report highlights that public provision of high-quality childcare provides a stimulating social and learning environment – and helps to reduce socioeconomic disadvantage. And yet, the international average is that 14.5% of parents of a child under 3 have unmet childcare needs. In Ireland, the figure goes up to 21.9%. It is also remarked that in five rich countries, parental leave is less than 10 weeks (full pay equivalent), which includes Ireland. Expectations to prioritize work can lead to long hours and stress that reduce the time and energy parents have for their children. On average, two out of five employees in Europe found it difficult to fulfil family responsibilities several times per month. Lastly, context refers to broader economic, social and environmental factors that influence child wellbeing either directly or indirectly. With a strong economy before the COVID outbreak, Ireland performed well in the contextual analysis.

The report also provides a series of policy recommendations to support the wellbeing of children across the world. The recommendations include improving access to affordable and high-quality early years childcare for all children.

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