Kids in 360 degrees
UNICEF’s Report Card 11, Child Well-Being in Rich Countries: A comparative overview , measures the level of child well-being achieved in the world’s richest nations.
The League Table of Child Well-being ranks 29 industrialized countries on an index of child well-being. The index averages 26 indicators across five dimensions: Material Well-being, Health and Safety, Education, Behaviours and Risks, and Housing and Environment. League tables for each of these dimensions, and for each indicator within them, measure and compare progress for children across these countries. The Netherlands is the clear leader, the only country ranked among the top five in all dimensions. The standards achieved by the highest-performing nations should contribute to debate in Canada about how such standards can be achieved for our children.
A nation stuck in the middle
In the overall well-being of our children, Canada ranks in a middle position at 17 of 29 nations.
Canada also achieves a middle-level ranking in its scores for:
Material Well-being (15 out of 29)
Education (14 out of 29)
Behaviours and Risks (16 out of 29)
Housing and Environment (11 out of 29)
Most concerning is that in Health and Safety, Canada ranks as low as 27 of the 29 industrialized countries.
Canada shines in some aspects of child well-being, and lags at the bottom in others – just like the pattern in many other countries.
The UNICEF Report Card not only provides a snapshot of how well children are doing today, it tracks progress for children across the world’s most affluent nations during the first decade of the new millennium. Canada, like all countries, made progress in most of the indicators of child well-being – including remarkable progress in some areas such as youth smoking and teen births. Just not enough to improve our middle rank among comparable countries. And there are trends that are worrying and clearly need more effective action. The high rate of obesity is a major concern, as is the use of cannabis - where Canada ranked dead last.
Keeping our eyes on our kids
The Canadian Companion to the UNICEF Report Card focuses on Canada’s record, why we have these results, and what can be done to make progress for our children. That Canada can do better is evident in the contrast to similar nations, many of whom have fewer economic resources and fell deeper into recession. The well-being of children is a shared responsibility among families, communities and public institutions, but all of the well-being indicators in the Report Card are influenced by policy choices. Addressing child poverty in Canada will go a long way to improving the well-being of children in Canada in all areas – improving family and peer relationships and health and education, and decreasing risky behaviour.
Measuring progress - or the lack of it - in the well-being of children is essential to policy-making, to the cost-effective allocation of limited resources and to transparency and accountability. We have to do a better job of keeping our eyes on our children. Canada needs a regular state of the children report that measures a range of indicators across the conditions for good childhood, and presents the data and analysis clearly and regularly for public monitoring and debate.
The last word
Childhood is a period of rapid and delicate development of mind and body, a time when skill should build on skill, but when disadvantage can also build on disadvantage. Failure to protect and promote the well-being of children is associated with increased risk across a wide range of later-life outcomes. Children have the right to first call on their nations’ resources and capacities, in good times and bad. There will always be some interest more immediate than protecting the well-being of children. There will never be one more important.