UNICEF has released its first report card that answers the question, 'how far behind are children being allowed to fall?' The report focuses on the world's 24 richest nations, the OECD countries.
Report Card 9: The Children Left Behind is an unflinching look at the realities of life for the poorest children in the world's 24 richest countries. The UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre Report measured "... the gap between the average child (what a country may consider ‘normal’) and the child near the bottom. As such, the report examines how far children are falling behind in three dimensions of their lives - material well-being, educational achievement and physical health – and means we can measure and compare, for the first time, the differences in performance both within and between countries."
Using data provided, the Innocenti Research Centre found Greece, Italy and the United States were the three notable nations that consistently failed its poorest children. Denmark, Finland, Netherlands and Switzerland achieved the top ranks in the report card by providing greater equality than their OECD peers.
"... the consequences of ‘falling behind’ are enormous for children, as they are for the economy and societies," said UNICEF Canada in a press release. Canada was accorded a middle ranking in the report, prompting UNICEF Canada spokesperson Marv Bernstein to say, "With stronger public policy, Canada can rise above its mediocre performance and leave no child behind. The level of family income is a major influence on all aspects of child well-being. Canada should address income inequality by promoting fairly paid and highly skilled employment and through sufficient and fairly distributed benefits and taxation. We also need to ensure health, education and other services reduce, rather than widen, disadvantage among our children.”
As the report emphasizes, child poverty includes much more than income. "... It is also about poverty of opportunity and expectation, of cultural and educational resources, of housing and neighbourhoods, of parental care and time, of local services and community resources. But from the child’s point of view, these different dimensions of poverty are rarely separate. Family circumstance, employment and income, health and education systems, and the local environment all play interacting roles in determining well-being."
Why look at how the richest nations of the world treat their children? Because, said the Innocenti Research Centre, "... it is argued that, after a certain level of economic development has been achieved, greater equality “would increase the well-being and quality of life for all”." The Report Card intends to help the world's wealthiest nations achieve more just societies.
Warning that the conclusions reached were based on data tabulated when the world was enjoying economic "good times," the authors said the recession has meant the numbers of poor children has risen. The Director of Innocenti, Gordon Alexander said in a press release, “As debates rage on austerity measures and social spending cuts, the report focuses on the hundreds of thousands of children who risk being left behind in the world‟s richest countries. This need not happen - the standard set out in this report is not based on some theoretical ideal of greater equality but on what some OECD countries have already achieved for their children.”
The costs associated with inequality are large. "... Hundreds of studies in different OECD countries have shown that the costs of children falling too far behind include a greater likelihood of inadequate nutrition, lower educational achievement, chronic stress for the child and impaired development." But, says the report, “The heaviest costs are paid by the individual child."
However, as Alexander noted "The 24 OECD countries being compared are all highly developed nations with a similar capacity to limit child poverty. The fact that some countries are doing better than others shows that the pattern of inequality can be broken, and that when exclusion is identified early, action can be taken to prevent a deep fall. The variation between countries revealed in the report offers a realistic goal for improvement.”