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Greater support needed for working families as COVID-19 takes hold – UNICEF and ILO

New recommendations aim to help employers strengthen support for families during the pandemic

James Bennett holds his one day-old baby James, in a maternity ward in Exeter, UK.  Evidence suggests that when fathers bond with their babies from the beginning of life, they are more likely to play a more active role in their child’s development.

NEW YORK, 30 March 2020 – As the COVID-19 pandemic continues its exponential growth, it is essential to support working families to minimize negative consequences for children, UNICEF and ILO said today. Job loss, school closures, and unavailability of childcare mean that families, especially those in low-income households, need extra support.

“The fallout from the pandemic – job losses, prolonged stress and a deterioration of mental health – will be felt by families for years to come,” said UNICEF Chief of Early Childhood Development Dr. Pia Rebello Britto. “For the most vulnerable children, the absence of adequate social protection systems exacerbates their exposure to the crisis.”

In new preliminary recommendations released today, UNICEF urges employers to consider the impact of their business decisions on workers’ families – and to support social protection wherever possible.

Download the preliminary technical note from UNICEF, ILO and UN Women on family-friendly policies and other good workplace practices in the context of COVID-19 here

UNICEF and ILO also call on governments to strengthen social protection measures, especially for vulnerable families, including by supporting employers to continue providing employment and income, and to guarantee financial support for those who lose their jobs.

“Social dialogue - consultation and collaboration among governments, workers and employers and their representatives - is essential. If responses are to be effective and sustainable, they have to be built on trust and a wide range of experiences,” said Manuela Tomei, ILO Director of the Conditions of Work and Equality Department.

Family-friendly policies and practices, including employment and income protection, paid leave to care for family members, flexible working arrangements and access to quality, emergency childcare can make a critical difference. They enable workers to protect and care for themselves and their children and enhance workers’ productivity and sense of security.

In 2019 UNICEF Innocenti released the Research Report "Are the World's Richest Countries Family Friendly? Policy in the OECD and EU."  This highly influential report raised important questions about national paternity leave policies, and continues make international headlines today.

Christophe, 42, gets ready to go to work and drop off his son, Kevin, 2, at the Early Childhood Development (ECD) center where he attends day care on the tea factory where he is employed in Rwanda. During the first few years of life, a child’s brain develops at a speed of around one million new neural connections every second.

The preliminary recommendations for employers to mitigate the negative consequences stemming from COVID-19 include:

  • Monitor and follow national advice by local and national authorities and communicate critical information to the workforce.
  • Assess whether current workplace policies provide sufficient support to workers and their families.
  • Apply good practices when implementing existing or new policies based on social dialogue, national labour laws and international labour standards. Ensure all workers are entitled to workplace support measures, without discrimination, and that all workers know about them, understand them and feel comfortable using them.
  • Protect the workplace against discrimination and social stigma by facilitating training and ensuring reporting mechanisms are confidential and safe.
  • Implement family-friendly working arrangements to give workers greater freedom of when and where they can fulfil their job responsibilities. If flexible working arrangements are not possible, consider alternative support for working parents such as childcare support.
  • Support working parents with childcare options that are safe and appropriate in the context of COVID-19.
  • Prevent and address workplace risks by strengthening occupational safety and health measures.
  • Provide guidance and training on occupational safety and health measures and hygiene practices.
  • Encourage workers to seek appropriate medical care in cases of fever, cough and difficulty breathing.
  • Support employees coping with stress during the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Support government social protection measures in line with ILO Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention No. 102 and ILO Social Protection Floors Recommendation No. 202. Company support can include, for example, subsidies for workers to access health, unemployment and inability to work insurance, and should extend to workers in the informal sector.

For more information about COVID-19 and guidance on how to protect children and families, visit: 

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Children play in the Reception and Identification Centre in Moria, on the island of Lesvos, in Greece. The situation for refugee and migrant children on the Greek islands remains dire and dangerous.NEW YORK, 20 March 2020 – Hundreds of millions of children around the world will likely face increasing threats to their safety and wellbeing – including mistreatment, gender-based violence, exploitation, social exclusion and separation from caregivers – because of actions taken to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. UNICEF is urging governments to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children amidst the intensifying socioeconomic fallout from the disease. The UN children’s agency, together with its partners at the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action, has released a set of guidance to support authorities and organizations involved in the response. In a matter of months, COVID-19 has upended the lives of children and families across the globe. Quarantine efforts such as school closures and movement restrictions, while considered necessary, are disrupting children's routines and support systems. They are also adding new stressors on caregivers who may have to forgo work.“In many ways, the disease is now reaching children and families far beyond those it directly infects”Stigma related to COVID-19 has left some children more vulnerable to violence and psychosocial distress. At the same time, control measures that do not account for the gender-specific needs and vulnerabilities of women and girls may also increase their risk of sexual exploitation, abuse and child marriage. Recent anecdotal evidence from China, for instance, points to a significant rise in cases of domestic violence against women and girls.“In many ways, the disease is now reaching children and families far beyond those it directly infects,” said Cornelius Williams, UNICEF Chief of Child Protection. “Schools are closing. Parents are struggling to care for their children and make ends meet. The protection risks for children are mounting. This guidance provides governments and protection authorities with an outline of practical measures that can be taken to keep children safe during these uncertain times.”People wear face masks as they wait to enter a children's hospital in Phnom Penh, after the first case of novel coronavirus was reported in the country.Increased rates of abuse and exploitation of children have occurred during previous public health emergencies. School closures during the outbreak of Ebola virus disease in West Africa from 2014 to 2016, for example, contributed to spikes in child labor, neglect, sexual abuse and teenage pregnancies. In Sierra Leone, cases of teenage pregnancy more than doubled to 14,000 from before the outbreak.As part of the guidance, the Alliance is recommending that governments and protection authorities take concrete steps to ensure protection of children is integral to all COVID-19 prevention and control measures, including:Train health, education and child services staff on COVID-19 related child protection risks, including on the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse and how to safely report concerns;Train first responders on how to manage disclosure of gender-based violence (GBV Pocket Guide), and collaborate with healthcare services to support GBV survivors;Increase information sharing on referral and other support services available for children;   Engage children, particularly adolescents, in assessing how COVID-19 affects them differently to inform programming and advocacy;Provide targeted support to interim care centres and families, including child-headed households and foster families, to emotionally support children and engage in appropriate self-care;Provide financial and material assistance to families whose income generating opportunities have been affected; and Put in place concrete measures to prevent child-family separation, and ensure support for children left alone without adequate care due to the hospitalization or death of a parent or caregiver; and,Ensure the protection of all children is given the utmost consideration in disease control measures.


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Are the world’s richest countries family friendly? Policy in the OECD and EU

Children get a better start in life and parents are better able to balance work and home commitments in countries that have family-friendly policies. These include paid parental leave, support for breastfeeding and affordable, high-quality childcare and preschool education. This report looks at family-friendly policies in 41 high- and middle-income countries using four country-level indicators: the duration of paid leave available to mothers; the duration of paid leave reserved specifically for fathers; the share of children below the age of three in childcare centres; and the share of children between the age of three and compulsory school age in childcare or preschool centres. Sweden, Norway and Iceland are the three most family-friendly countries for which we have complete data. Cyprus, Greece and Switzerland occupy the bottom three places. Ten of the 41 countries do not have sufficient data on childcare enrolment to be ranked in our league table. There is not enough up-to-date information available for us to compare across countries the quality of childcare centres or breastfeeding rates and policies. There is scope for the world’s richest countries to improve their family policies and collect better data.


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