Following the launch of our latest Report Card, Worlds of Influence, our Chief of Economic and Social Policy, Dominic Richardson, answers some of the questions asked during our policy panel discussion.
How does the Report Card impact progress towards achieving child-centred SDGs?
The Report Card brings into sharper relief the role of policies and how policies can mitigate the effects of national and global shocks on children, whatever they may be. COVID will inevitably impact our ability to meet the SDGs to some degree, so if policy makers use the Report Card as it’s designed to be used, they will reflect more carefully on the types of policies that protect children from the negative outcomes of the COVID crisis. In protecting children, they will also progress the SDGs.
“As we push towards improving numeracy and literacy states, it’s critically important that we don’t forget that there are other important skills that we want children to develop.”
How can we mainstream play into the way children learn & families engage with them?
Play is a very important way for children to learn all sorts of skills, like teamwork, communication, listening, and creativity. The Report Card shows that more time playing outside is linked to much higher levels of happiness, yet many children say that good play and leisure facilities are not available in their neighbourhoods. As we push towards improving numeracy and literacy, it’s critically important that we don’t forget that there are other important skills that we want children to develop. Although there are efforts to improve life skills, play is not commonly used as a medium to create or strengthen these skills.
There isn’t a set of measures for mainstreaming play that are common to all high-income countries. Instead, countries are drawing on a range of different interventions, like providing and protecting green spaces for children, offering out of school activities, helping children access amenities, and incorporating play into learning and development opportunities, particularly in early child development settings. We should bring child development, play, and ‘the fun of learning’ closer together. It benefits the child, it benefits their families, and it benefits society.
Is it possible to put more emphasis on social protection as a way of stimulating the economy?
It is perfectly possible and indeed desirable to do this. Social protection is not receiving the majority of COVID financial stimulus. Instead, most of the money is going to corporate welfare, like supporting businesses and the economy. What’s more, only a small proportion of what is spent on social protection goes directly to families with children. While there are no hard-set rules on how these things should be done, the more directly we can support the livelihoods of families and children, the better. There is no evidence from the 2008 global financial crisis that corporate welfare left us in a better position regarding child poverty and well-being, and yet we’re doing the same thing again.
What needs to be done to re-engage top political leaders on using data to track progress for children?
This question hangs on whether political leaders are disengaged now, or whether they were ever truly engaged. The history of high-income countries using data to track the progress of children is not exactly long, going back to around 2000, but the SDGs have improved this. The way to engage policy makers is to make them realise why these measures matter and what they can do with them. We need to make the case that children’s wellbeing should be a political priority. Picking the right indicators is important, as is the quality of data and the rationale for that indicator. We must ensure that the indicators are coherent and cover child well-being in a holistic way, and that no children are excluded. We must also explain how these indicators interact – achievement on one could impact achievement on another either positively or negatively. In the end, it is not just a question of data but also understanding of what really drives change.
“There should be no room for party politics in the achievement of children’s rights.”
There is strong evidence on the efficiency and pay-off of child-centred, joined up policies. What are the barriers within governments to using this model of policymaking?
While it is true that there is good evidence to support a portfolio of joined up policies for children as an effective and efficient way of promoting child wellbeing for all children, there are many barriers to making it happen. The first is making the case to policymakers so they don’t just see this as a cost or an infringement on the privacy of the family or others. There are politics around family policy and child policy which are ultimately unhelpful because there should be no room for party politics in the achievement of children’s rights. Any questions around whether a family should receive support based on certain attributes – be it unemployment, migrant status, same sex couples, etc - are an infringement of Articles 2 and 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We should not question whether children should have this support, but rather we should be talking about how to best deliver it.
The process of family policy reform is rationalised based on a limited number of things. You need to know why you’re doing it, how to do it, and what resources are required to do it. We should be supporting policymakers to make these decisions by answering these questions. The Report Card starts to answer the question of “why should I do it?” We need to continue the debate on how to do it and how to pay for it. Our job is to shed light on these things and continue to support the aspirations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by advocating for children’s wellbeing and by providing the requisite policy advice to make it happen.