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How are sport for development organizations keeping children healthy during COVID-19?
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How are sport for development organizations keeping children healthy during COVID-19?

This blog explores how Sport for Development (S4D) organisations have responded and adapted their programming to support children during the COVID-19 crisis. S4D organisations use sport as a tool to catalyse positive change in the lives of children, youth and the communities they live in. Interviews with S4D organizations, conducted as part of the ongoing research commissioned by the Barça Foundation and UNICEF partnership, revealed that organizations are innovating to adapt to the current crisis through three key interconnected practices: Continuing to support children through remote sessions, with coaches providing guidance for physical activity along with content to accomplish a variety of social goals. Providing critical and accurate health and COVID-19 information through coaches, who are in many cases trusted individuals in communities. Supporting their staff in helping other programmes, such as feeding programmes, while sports activities are closed. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Vdm4eQlonE&t=43s[/embed] What is Sport for Development? Sport and physical activity are fun, effective and engaging means to improve many areas of children’s wellbeing including physical and mental health, empowerment, learning and life skills that are essential for success in school, life and work. For instance, one review found positive associations between physical activity and academic performance in 79% of the studies it assessed. The Kazan Action plan highlights the role sport can play in improving children’s lives, and outlines the commitment of multiple governments to make sport part of the solution to achieving the SDGs. S4D organisations come in various forms – from those that build social programmes around sport, to those that include sport as one of many approaches to achieving their goals. Approximately 1 in every 500 children worldwide takes part in a S4D initiative and almost every country hosts some S4D programmes (see map). How are organisations responding? S4D organizations create safe spaces where children can feel protected from violent and difficult contexts and where they are free to express themselves, away from social norms and expectations that communities can have for boys and girls. These activities take place in schools, community centres, and outdoor spaces. Social distancing measures have meant that organizations have had to stop their regular programming taking away these safe physical spaces and adapt both delivery modalities and content to respond to the crisis. Continuing to support children through remote sessions Many S4D organizations are going remote through online, but also through broadcast media. The Barça Foundation, in Spain, has adapted its sessions for marginalised youth to take place online: coaches lead children through physical exercises remotely replacing their usual football match (See Figure 2), and moderate group discussions, before and after the exercise on life skills and values. This provides socio-emotional support through play and continues healthy routines which can be critical for mental health during uncertain times. The Barça Foundation is working on alternative ways to deliver these sessions so they are available to participants without access to internet, acknowledging that access to technology is not a given for many children around the world as explored in a recent research brief on remote learning. [caption id="attachment_2569" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Figure 2[/caption] COVID Focus: Providing critical and accurate health and COVID-19 information As part of their response, many S4D organisations, are adapting their content and developing innovative ways to help spread the word about good practices during COVID-19. Grassroot Soccer (GRS), who uses football as part of a curriculum on sexual and reproductive health, has developed an open-source COVID-19 curriculum that debunks myths around COVID-19 and promotes healthy behaviors. Sessions of this curriculum can be adapted to be implemented in person, respecting social distancing, or remotely and include physical activity (e.g. stretch, dance, game) components in place of the usual football (See Figure 3). This curriculum has been released with tips for coaches facilitators and caregivers, translated into 4 languages and is being used by several organisations in Africa. Various other open-source activities and curricula can be found here. [caption id="attachment_2570" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Figure 3[/caption] Organizations are also turning themselves into reference points for health information by sharing correct and updated health advice with communities. For example, TackleAfrica has been sending health content to its coaches in 12 countries via text message. CoolPlay and YouthWave are using WhatsApp and radio to stay in touch with programme participants, provide psychosocial support and healthy behavior tips. As trusted members of many marginalized communities, coaches and S4D organizations can have a critical role in providing health updates and fighting misinformation. Supporting their staff in helping other programmes Organisations have been helping in other ways, CoolPlay gave their staff’s time to support feeding programmes and the Barça Foundation provided in kind support to the families of the beneficiaries. Laureus Sport’s Informal Sharing Community meetings. This fits with the actions that sport organisations more broadly have taken. Football clubs in Europe have launched support drives to help others in need in the community, offered places for medical staff to stay, donated money to health services, and started helplines. In Spain, FC Barcelona has ceded the title rights to Camp Nou for the 2020-2021 season to the Barça Foundation to raise money for research in the fight against  COVID-19. As shown in the Getting into the Game report, sports can have an outsized impact on a child’s wellbeing, from children’s health, to life skills like leadership and teamwork, to learning outcomes. S4D organizations are working hard to adapt to the current reality, and are making important contributions to the communities they operate in. Post COVID-19, the global community should make sure that the commitment made to using sport to improve the lives of children, remains integrated into plans to build healthier, safer, and more inclusive societies.   Are you part of an S4D organization? How has COVID-19 affected you and how have you responded? Please email us at cpasquini@unicef.org and tell us more about it.
How prepared are global education systems for future crises?
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How prepared are global education systems for future crises?

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an education emergency of unprecedented global scale. At its peak, over 190 countries closed schools in response to the health emergency, leaving 9 out of 10 enrolled learners around the world out of school. Although previous health emergencies – such as the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009 and the Ebola outbreak in 2014-2016 – have caused short- and long-term school closures in several countries, the COVID-19 crisis has caught most of the world’s education systems unprepared. As a result, countries have been scrambling to implement immediate, wide-scale distance learning for the first time. 
Can we count on parents to help their children learn at home?
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Can we count on parents to help their children learn at home?

This blog is the third of a series targeted toward exploring the impact of COVID-19 on education. It focuses on the learning environment at home, the potential parental role for continued learning and their association with reading skills. 53 per cent of children in low- and middle- income countries cannot read and understand a simple text by the end of primary school-age. In low-income countries, the learning crisis is even more acute, with the learning poverty rate reaching 90 per cent (World Bank). Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 191 countries have implemented country-wide school closures, affecting 1.6 billion learners worldwide (UNESCO). With children currently not able to study in classrooms, the importance of learning at home is amplified and the task of supporting children’s learning has fallen on parents at a much larger rate, a significant burden particularly for those balancing teleworking and those with limited schooling themselves. This blog shows the disparities across and within countries in children’s reading skills and looks at the associations between parental engagement and learning, using the data from the MICS 6 new modules on foundational learning skills (used for monitoring the SDG 4.1.1 indicator, at grades 2-3 level, see here for more details on foundational skills measurement) and on parental engagement. Access the full Innocenti Research Brief: Parental engagement in children's remote learning Foundational reading skills and disparities Many countries lag behind achieving minimum proficiency in reading. For children aged 7-14, the acquisition of minimum reading skills varies both across and within countries (see Figure 1). And even in middle-income countries like Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia or Tunisia, only around 60 per cent of children acquire foundational reading skills. Among the ten countries with MICS 6 data analyzed, Sierra Leone and Madagascar are the two countries with the lowest achievements. All countries, except Mongolia, show large disparities against the poorest. In Sierra Leone only 2 per cent of children from the poorest quintile reach the foundational reading skills. Even if more limited, gender differences also exist, to the detriment of boys, with the exception of Sierra Leone where the trend is reversed (15 per cent of girls achieve foundational reading skills, compared to 17 per cent for boys). The gender gap is the largest in Lesotho where 53 per cent of girls achieve the foundational reading skills, compared to only 34 per cent of boys. Home Learning Environment and Parental Engagement and association with reading skills Child-oriented Books availability A previous UNICEF blog showed disparities in the child-oriented books availability and use across countries and within countries, at the detriment of children from the poorest families. During school closures, those children are at very high risk of not getting a chance to learn at home if there are no books for them. In all countries, the share of children acquiring reading skills is higher in households where there is at least one book (see Figure 2). In Bangladesh, for instance, 70 per cent of children in households with at least one child-oriented book are able to read while it is the case for only 48 per cent of those living in a household without any child-oriented book. Parental engagement for reading books to children and for supporting schoolwork Together with learning materials at home, reading to children and supporting them for schoolwork are a potential way to improve child reading skills. Having someone reading books is particularly important for children in households from the poorest quintile. For example, Figure 3 shows the differences in reading skills between children with reading support and those without in Pakistan (Punjab). Such differences are greater for children living in poorest households. Among families in the poorest quintile, 29 per cent of children with someone reading books to them achieve foundational reading skills, compared to only 15 per cent of children to whom nobody books. For children in wealthier families, differences are less marked. On a related note, the lack of education of mothers/caregivers also impedes the support they are able to provide to their children’s learning, with the risk to perpetuate an inter-generational learning poverty cycle. In all countries with data, less-educated caregivers/mothers are less likely to help children with their schoolwork at home. Consistently, the share of children acquiring foundational skills (both in reading and numeracy) is much larger in households where the mother/caregiver has at least completed primary education than in households with a mother/caregiver who has not gone to school or dropped-out before the end of primary education (see Figure 4). In addition to the health and economic impacts, COVID-19 is depriving many children from learning opportunities at school. Availability of child-oriented books at home and engagement of parents can play an important role for continued learning at home, especially where there is no access to technology. And all policy decisions and implementation should also be cognizant of the need to ensure parents’ capability to help their child learn to prevent exacerbating further global learning inequities to the detriment of the most vulnerable. Akito Kamei is an education research consultant at UNICEF Innocenti, Matt Brossard is Chief of education research at UNICEF Innocenti; Manuel Cardoso is an education specialist with UNICEF's programme division; Sakshi Mishra is a consultant with UNICEF 's Data and Analytics team; and Suguru Mizunoya is Senior Advisor in statistics and monitoring with UNICEF's Data and Analytics team and Nicolas Reuge is Senior Education Advisor in UNICEF's programme division.   
Lessons from COVID-19: Getting remote learning right 
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Lessons from COVID-19: Getting remote learning right 

This blogpost summarizes recommendations for policy makers and explores 3 good practices for equitable remote learning, based on recent research conducted using data on education responses to COVID-19 from UNICEF staff in 127 countries. To help contain the spread COVID-19, schools have closed around the world, at its peak putting  approximately 1.6 billion or 91% of the world’s enrolled students out of school (UNESCO). Governments and education stakeholders have responded swiftly implementing remote learning, using various delivery channels, including digital tools, TV/radio-based teaching, and take-home packages. The massive scale of school closures has laid bare the uneven distribution of technology to facilitate remote learning and the lack of preparedness of systems to support teachers, and caregivers in the successful and safe use of technology for learning. Key recommendations to education policy makers for COVID-19 and beyond: Education systems need a ‘Plan B’ for safe and effective learning delivery when schools are closed. Producing accessible digital and media resources based on the curriculum will not only allow a quicker response, but their use in ordinary times can enrich learning opportunities for children in and out of school. Infrastructure investment in remote and rural areas to reach marginalized children should be a priority. Initiatives like Generation Unlimited and GIGA, can democratize access to technology and connectivity, increasing options for remote learning delivery and speeding up response during school closures. Teacher training should change to include management of remote ‘virtual’ classrooms, improving presentation techniques, tailoring follow-up sessions with caregivers and effective blending of technology into lessons. Further applied research for learning and sharing what works is more important than ever. Increased focus on implementation research is needed to develop practical ways to improve teacher training, content production, parental engagement, and to leverage the use of technologies at scale. Practices for more equitable remote learning Given the digital divide use multiple delivery channels Large inequities exist in access to internet around the world as illustrated by figure 1 below.  Governments are increasing access to digital content for children where possible, by negotiating to not charge data costs for education content (Rwanda, South Africa, Jordan). Even with initiatives to increase access in the short-term, digital channels are not enough to reach all children, especially the most disadvantaged as explored in Remote Learning Amid a Pandemic: Insights from MICS6.   To expand their reach, 68% countries are utilizing some combination of digital and non-digital (TV, Radio, and take-home packages) in their education responses. TV is being used by 75% of countries, including making TV lessons accessible for children with hearing impairments with sign language (Morocco, Uzbekistan).  Radio is also a widely used tool, 58% of countries report using it to deliver audio content. However, digital, tv and radio delivery channels all require electricity.  Simple (unweighted) average of the 28 countries with data by income level, shows that only 65% of households from the poorest quintile have electricity, compared to 98% of households from the wealthiest quintile. In seven countries (Côte d'Ivoire, Lesotho, Kiribati, Sudan, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, and Mauritania) less than 10% of the poorest households have electricity. To address this challenge, 49% of countries are also using “take home” packages for learners. In Jordan, refugee children are receiving learning packages and in Jamaica learn and play kits are delivered to children in quarantined zones.  Parental engagement is critically important for learning and should not be overlooked as explored in the recent research brief on parental Engagement in Children’s Learning – Insights for remote learning response during COVID-19 Figure 3. Below shows the wide disparity in Radio ownership across 88 countries, while figure 4 illustrates the urban rural gap in TV ownership within countries. Strengthen support to the teachers, facilitators and parents delivering remote learning Access to content is only the first step in remote learning. Countries are supporting caregivers who have been thrust into teaching at home, with tutoring materials, webinars/helplines to answer their questions (North Macedonia, Uruguay). Countries are engaging with caregivers, to not only support learning but to, provide psychosocial support to children (Bhutan, Cameroon, Ecuador, Eswatini, Guatemala, Oman, India), provide tips for children’s online safety (North Macedonia, Serbia) and engage with families to allow girls to continue learning remotely rather than increasing their household duties (Ghana). Gather feedback and strengthen monitoring of reach and quality Countries have engaged in a variety of measures to collect feedback, and to understand the usage and effectiveness of different delivery channels. Monitoring of reach and quality for remote learning remains a challenge for many countries.  While there is great need to understand how COVID-19 has impacted children, education actors must take care to ensure that any data collection exercise from children follows ethical considerations and, first and foremost does no harm (Berman, 2020). Several countries are using simple tools (SMS in Tanzania, Chatbots in Mongolia) to gather feedback from parents to improve remote learning.  Serbia, South Africa, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan have incorporated assessment tools within digital platforms. Thomas Dreesen  is an Education Manager at UNICEF’s Office of Research (OoR), Mathieu Brossard is the Chief of Education at UNICEF OoR- Innocenti. Spogmai Akseer, Akito Kamei and Javier Santiago Ortiz are education research consultants at UNICEF OoR- Innocenti, Pragya Dewan is a consultant in the education section of UNICEF’s programme division, Juan-Pablo Giraldo is an education specialist in UNICEF’s Programme division, and Suguru Mizunoya is a Senior Advisor in statistics and monitoring with UNICEF’s Data and Analytics team.
Why Child Labour Cannot be Forgotten During COVID-19
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Why Child Labour Cannot be Forgotten During COVID-19

In just a matter of weeks, the COVID-19 outbreak has already had drastic consequences for children. Their access to education, food, and health services has been dramatically affected across the globe. The impact has been so marked, that the UN Secretary General has urged governments and donors to offset the immediate effects of the COVID-19 crisis on children. In discussions of the pandemic to date, child labour (i.e. forms of work that are harmful to children) has played only a marginal role. Yet, as we describe in this blog, child labour will be an important coping mechanism for poor households experiencing COVID-related shocks. As global poverty rises, so too will the prevalence of child labour. Increased parental mortality due to COVID-19 will force children into child labour, including the worst forms such as work that harms the health and safety of children. Temporary school closures may have permanent implications for the poorest and most vulnerable. Limited budgets and reductions in services for families and children will compound the effects of the health, economic, and social crisis. We expect millions of children to become child labourers due to a rise in global poverty alone. Even in the highly improbable scenario of a short-lived economic crisis, the consequences of this increase in child labour can last generations. We know that children who enter child labour are unlikely to stop working if their economic situation improves. Instead, they will continue to experience the implications of child labour—like less education overall and worse employment opportunities—when they are adults and start families of their own. We also know that the younger children are when they start working, the more likely they will experience chronic health issues as adults. Moreover, we have ample evidence that stress and trauma in adolescence lead to a lifetime of mental health challenges. How parental health affects child labour Without plausible forecasts on the extent of morbidity and mortality globally, it is impossible to gauge the rise in child labour as a direct result of the health consequences of COVID-19. However, we do know that as parents and caregivers in poor countries fall sick or die, children will take over part of their roles, including domestic work and earning responsibilities, as seen previously in Mali, Mexico, and Tanzania. When desperation sets in, children can be especially vulnerable. One study from Nepal found that paternal disability or death was among the strongest observable predictors of engagement in the worst forms of child labour. Curbing the consequences of school closures There is ample reason to be concerned that the temporary disruption of schooling will have permanent effects especially for the poorest. Normally, when children stop going to school and start earning an independent income, it is extremely difficult to get them to go back to school. A study of teacher strikes in Argentina, for instance, found that even temporary school closures can result in permanently lower schooling and reduced labour earnings into adulthood as children who leave school early enter low-skill occupations. However, it may be possible to curb the consequences of school closure. The global shutdown may limit the ability of children to start earning while they are out of school, potentially mitigating the chance that children will not go back to school. Moreover, the re-opening of schools can cause excitement for both students and their parents. Such excitement was widely reported in the aftermath of school closures due to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. A World Vision report from 2015 quoted an 11 year-old in Sierra Leone: “When school finally reopened on April 14, it was the best day of my life.” Indeed, in Sierra Leone children had largely returned to class by the end of the Ebola epidemic. [caption id="attachment_2541" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Ibrahim (13) is a seasonal agricultural child worker from Sanliurfa, Turkey.[/caption] As extreme poverty increases, so too will child labour The economic downturn brought on by COVID is widely expected to lead to an increase in global poverty. One World Bank model forecasts a rise of 40 to 60 million people living in extreme poverty this year alone. A UNU-WIDER study estimates that a 5 percent contraction in per capita incomes will lead to an additional 80 million people living in extreme poverty. Child laborers are a large share of the global population living in extreme poverty. We expect millions of additional children to be pushed into child labour as a result of an increase in extreme poverty alone. Social protection is crucial to address child labour Social protection programmes directly addressing poverty are critical to offset the worst impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on child labour. At the time of writing, 133 countries were actively working on social protection responses, including non-contributory cash transfers. Generally, social protection programmes help lower child labour outside the household and help households offset economic shocks. In Colombia, cash transfers helped offset increases in child labour due to absence of the father. In Zambia, cash transfers helped households cushion the effect of weather shocks. It seems inevitable that, in the medium term, most countries will experience serious fiscal crises. These crises will likely be especially severe in poor countries with a revenue basis depending disproportionately on international trade, foreign direct investment or foreign aid. We expect fiscal crises to further affect child labour through declining social protection. Likewise, funding for other publicly provided goods—like health, education, and active labour market policies, and enforcement of labour market regulations—is likely to decline post-COVID-19. Each of these could have implications for child labour. Reductions in school fees, for example, have played a role in encouraging schooling, and there is evidence from India that the impact of negative economic shocks on child labour was muted in areas where schooling was more affordable. We also have evidence from Mexico and Senegal that child labour declines when school quality improves. If school fees increase or school quality deteriorates post-COVID-19, a further increase in child labour seems likely. Moving forward Affordable, gender-sensitive policy responses should be designed to help keep children in school and reduce reliance on child labour. Policy responses that risk exacerbating the looming increase in child labour, such as public works programmes, should be considered carefully. Particular attention should be paid to the period shortly after lockdowns when schools reopen. This will be a critical window to prevent children entering paid work and community-level action is needed to ensure that every child returns to school. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those who lose a parent deserve special consideration and support.   Jacobus de Hoop is manager of humanitarian policy research at UNICEF Innocenti. Eric Edmonds is Professor of Economics at Dartmouth College. His research aims to improve policy directed at child labour, forced labour, and human trafficking.   Discover our work on Child Labour and Social Protection.
Can broadcast media foster equitable learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic?
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Can broadcast media foster equitable learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic?

This post is the second in a series of articles focused on helping children continue to learn at home during the COVID-19 global pandemic, emphasizing the need for multiple remote learning platforms to meet the needs of all students.   As discussed in the first post in this series on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, school closures around the globe mean that remote learning is now the only option for more than 1.3 billion children across 177 countries. MICS6 data reveal that many of the world’s children do not have internet access at home, particularly among poorer households. In response, UNICEF, governments and partners are actively considering an array of solutions to support the continuity of learning for children and adolescents, and the data indicate that television and radio broadcasts offer an effective way for education systems to reach children with the greatest needs.     Access via the airwaves: Reaching the most children with television and radio [caption id="attachment_2516" align="alignright" width="303"] Figure 1[/caption] As illustrated in Figure 1, broadcast media can be a core component of a data-driven, multi-pronged approach to the alternative delivery of education content and has several advantages in delivering educational content during the COVID-19 crisis. New analysis of MICS6 data shows that television and radio broadcasts have the potential to reach a majority of the world’s children, especially the most vulnerable. [1] According to UNICEF’s COVID-19 education rapid response tracker, 77 per cent of countries include television in their national response to COVID-19 school closures and radio is part of the national response in more than half of the countries tracked. TV and radio lack interactivity, but parents and caregivers can address this shortcoming by engaging with their children to discuss broadcasted educational content, supplemented by printed materials. The importance of effective engagement and support from parents and caregivers was discussed in detail in this recent UNICEF blog post.     Television Our analysis shows that in the countries studied in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, television would reach 80 per cent or more of the school-aged population. In countries like Georgia, Iraq, Kyrgyz Republic, Montenegro, and Tunisia, even children in poor households have high rates of access to television making it an equitable way to deliver educational content (Figure 2). However, in the countries analyzed in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, household access to television is neither common nor equitably distributed – television reaches half or fewer school-age children, and gaps in television access are very stark for the poorest children, where 10 per cent or fewer have a television at home.       Radio While its reach is not universally high, radio has an important role to play in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where it can potentially reach more than 50 per cent of school-age children in countries such as The Gambia, Suriname, Sierra Leone and Ghana (Figure 3).     Boosting the benefits of broadcast media through blended delivery The broad reach of television and radio broadcasts makes them a good choice to serve as the backbone of many remote learning programmes, but countries are encouraged to explore how they can enhance their educational offerings with high- and low-tech complements like internet-based instruction and the use of printed learning materials. For example, in April, Peru launched “Aprendo en casa” (I learn at home), which uses radio, TV and web-based platforms to provide instruction in math, Spanish, social sciences, art and physical education at the pre-primary, primary and secondary education levels. UNICEF is coordinating with UNESCO, the United Nations Population Fund, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and Peru’s Ministry of Education to ensure the programme is equitable and inclusive in reaching indigenous, migrant and disabled children. At the other end of the spectrum, for many of the most marginalized school-age children – i.e., those in very rural settings and/or from very poor households – even radio and TV may be inaccessible, making delivery of printed education materials the only alternative. In March, UNICEF and other partners supported Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education in their launch of educational radio programmes covering the national curriculum. About half of the households in the country have a radio, andhomes in rural areas are more likely to have a radio than a television.[2] The radio broadcasts are complemented by home delivery of printed materials, which are crucial to reaching children without radio access.     MICS6 data drive informed decision-making The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges in terms of delivering education services to children. Speed is of the essence – the education sector must move quickly to find solutions, especially for the poorest children. COVID-19 school closures threaten to rob vulnerable children of the opportunity to catch up with their more advantaged peers, further deepening inequalities. Remote learning means the home environment is even more important to a child’s ability to continue learning. Marginalized children are more likely to be in homes with fewer learning resources, have lower access to devices, and their caregivers may lack the time or knowledge needed to support learning and development. In some countries, television and/or radio have the potential to reach almost all children, including the poorest. In others, their reach is limited and uneven. While MICS6 data show there is no one-size-fits-all solution to reach all children, using data to drive decisions regarding the most effective channels will help ensure education is both widely accessible and equitably provided.     [1] The analysis included 19 countries/regions (a total of 20 surveys) conducted between 2017-2019: East Asia and Pacific: Kiribati, Lao PDR, Mongolia; Europe and Central Asia: Georgia, Kyrgyz Republic, Montenegro, Montenegro (Roma settlements). Eastern and Southern Africa: Lesotho, Madagascar, Zimbabwe. Latin America and the Caribbean: Suriname. Middle East and North Africa: Iraq, Tunisia. South Asia: Bangladesh, Pakistan (Punjab). West and Central Africa: DR Congo, Ghana, Sierra Leone, The Gambia, Togo. [2] Source: DHS 2015.
Remote Learning Amid a Global Pandemic: Insights from MICS6
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Remote Learning Amid a Global Pandemic: Insights from MICS6

While some countries are now moving to reopen schools, nearly 1.3 billion children are still out of school and dependent on remote learning, due to nationwide shutdowns. As national educational systems strive to meet this challenge, Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) data offer some important insights into how we can ensure every child has an equal opportunity to learn remotely.
Ethical collection of data from children during the COVID-19 pandemic
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Ethical collection of data from children during the COVID-19 pandemic

Our need to understand, quantify, forecast, track and unpack the COVID-19 pandemic fuels an insatiable need for data. While children are not the primary victims, they are significantly impacted in most areas of their lives, and will continue to be well after the pandemic is contained. Understanding the impact on children is critical. Understanding their circumstances will be necessary for current and future predictions of impacts of the crisis on them. Collecting information that helps us determine how best to respond to similar future outbreaks is essential. There is so much we don’t know, and our children’s futures depend on us knowing. We need to take care. We need to ensure that our desire to help, to understand, to learn and to do all of this quickly doesn’t overshadow the basic principle of 'do no harm.' We need children’s data, and we need it yesterday. We need data about them, and we will need to get data directly from them. This is necessary to secure the rights of children, ensure that they have a voice, are safe and protected and that their basic needs are met. Where physical distancing is in place, we will look to use both old and new tech to gather the data online or by using phones. We will explore pre-existing big data sets and try and create new ones with new tech. When the crisis is over, we may revert whole or in part to face to face interviews. Whether using primary or secondary data we will be collecting information on children because we need to. [caption id="attachment_2489" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Despite restrictions on movement due to coronavirus containment measures health workers in Al-Hasakeh city, Syria, continue to provide guidance to a refugee mother at the shelters on infant and young child feeding practices.[/caption] However, and this is a big however, we need to take care. We need to ensure that our desire to help, to understand, to learn and to do all of this quickly doesn’t overshadow the basic principle of “do no harm.” Whether we are considering using apps for contact tracing, or thinking of asking children via social media platforms about their day to day lives in lock-down, we need to do so with a critical lens on our belief that we will do good through the data collection. Read new Discussion Paper: Ethical Considerations for Evidence Generation Involving Children on the COVID-19 Pandemic The risk is obvious, if we don’t consider issues like equity, justice, respect, privacy, purpose limitations and data value add, then we are at risk of negatively impacting those that we are looking to support. Without appropriate ethical reflection throughout and beyond the pandemic, a number of negative outcomes for children will likely ensue including: Significant exposure to risk of traumatization due to inappropriate questions and timing and an inability to determine where they may be within trauma and healing cycles; Difficulties responding to and ensuring an appropriate duty of care during the emergency and immediately after, if observation or disclosure of abuse occurs and/or if significant psychological/physical needs are evidenced given limited access to services; Perceived and actual privacy and confidentiality violations and data collection in excess of requirements and without appropriate and truly informed consent impacting the child and eroding the trust of children and their communities; Data obtained for one purpose, such as contract tracing, being misused for political/social surveillance; Potential reprisals against child participation or even consequent to attempts at recruitment in evidence generation, heightened during the mitigation stage of the outbreak in contexts where children are in lock-down; Poorly designed evidence generation that produces unreliable data including: a) poorly designed instruments that make incorrect assumptions relating to impacts, needs, experiences, and homogeneity of children and their experiences and, b) using technologies that may not be accessible to disadvantaged children resulting in poorly informed policies and future risk mitigation in outbreaks that fail to equitably meet children’s needs and long-term development; Missed opportunities to obtain children’s perspectives and insights – not just those considered ‘children’s issues’ – and/or prioritizing subject matter that fails to take into account children’s priorities in relation to support during COVID-19 and other future outbreaks. [caption id="attachment_2490" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] A young girl in Cairo, Egypt, does schoolwork on a tablet while staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.[/caption] In all the above examples our desire to help and to understand becomes subverted by the benign neglect of the ethical imperative. So whenever primary or secondary data collection from or about children is undertaken, explicit reflection is required on the timing, approach, necessity and transparency of the process. Consideration also should be given to privacy, representation, consent and importantly the circumstances of children. As always it will be the most disadvantaged and marginalized children that will suffer the greatest. Whether through exclusion, surveillance or lack of access to resources and cramped conditions these cohorts are at a heightened risk of vulnerability to multiple deprivations, psychological distress and exploitation both before and after the pandemic is contained. In these and all instances our response needs to be continuous vigilance, reflection and development of mitigation strategies. In some instances, the data collection should simply not go ahead in either the short term or indeed ever. We have to be prepared to put aside our ambitions for principles, to swap idealism for the realities of context, and to be ever vigilant.   Gabrielle Berman is Senior Advisor, Ethics in Evidence Generation at UNICEF Innocenti. This blog builds on a new Innocenti Discussion Paper highlighting ethical considerations involving children in research on the COVID-19 pandemic. For more visit UNICEF Innocenti's COVID-19 and children rapid research response  microsite.
Caring in the time of COVID-19: Gender, unpaid care work and social protection
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Caring in the time of COVID-19: Gender, unpaid care work and social protection

Care work, which is predominantly provided by women and girls, is a central yet typically undervalued contributor to economies. It includes supporting daily activities of individuals (such as cooking, cleaning, and providing daily essentials), as well as the health and well-being of others, including children and the elderly. Emerging data indicates that among confirmed cases of COVID-19 men are consistently dying in higher numbers than women. But when it comes to the economic and social fallout of the pandemic, women and girls face much greater risks. The UN recently published a policy brief recognising these risks, including impacts to sexual and reproductive health, and increases in gender-based violence. Women will be the hardest hit by this pandemic, but they will also be the backbone of recovery in communities. Every policy response that recognises this will be the more impactful for it. COVID-19 impact on women and girls’ unpaid care work The rapid spread of COVID-19 has highlighted the critical role of care work, particularly in times of crisis. Coronavirus containment measures have resulted in the closure of many services—including schools, basic health care, and day care centres—shifting responsibility for their provision on to households. While this could offer an opportunity for gender roles to shift within the home, emerging evidence suggests that care roles continue to be assumed disproportionately by women during this pandemic. Even before the pandemic, globally women and girls carried out on average three times times the amount of unpaid care and domestic work of men and boys. These responsibilities will only increase with new health and hygiene requirements, such as hand-washing and taking care of sick family members. Curfews and self-quarantine measures are likely to make these tasks even more challenging. [caption id="attachment_2482" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Nurses wearing masks and gloves to protect against the Coronavirus, in the health center of Gonzagueville, a suburb of Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire.[/caption] 191 countries have implemented nationwide school closures in an attempt to prevent further contagion, impacting over 91 per cent of world’s student population. On average, women will spend more time providing care and educational support to children. Temporary school closures also risk turning into school drop-out. Worryingly, the economic instability caused by COVID-19 could increase early and forced marriage, particularly for adolescent girls in low- and middle-income countries. Care burdens will manifest differently based on women and girls’ ages and stages in life. People over the age of 60 have the highest risk of infection. They are also often sources of childcare support within families, enabling younger women to work and study. The inter-generational impacts of the virus on long-term care arrangements, when children need to be separated from older family members, will need to be better understood. The double caregiving burden of women in paid care work More than 70 per cent of workers in the health and social sector are women. Women frontline care workers may face a double caregiving burden; additional demands placed on health services may require longer working hours, combined with increased care work at home. Paid care workers are also at higher risk of infection, particularly those in jobs that lack protective gear and protocols to keep them safe. Women disproportionately work in care-related jobs with poor protection and few benefits, including paid sick leave, making them particularly vulnerable. They are also more likely to be unable to take time off work or stay at home to care for themselves or others. Many who provide care in others’ homes do not have employment contracts so may not get paid if they are unable to work or they may be made work without the necessary protection or information. Social protection is key to mitigating gendered risks  The anticipated rise in unpaid care work provided by women and girls has numerous consequences for gender equality, including increased risk of infection and psychosocial effects from providing care to an infected relative. What’s more, the heightened exposure to and risk of gender-based violence, combined with reduced access to health services, all point to potentially long-lasting impacts for women and girls’ health.   [caption id="attachment_2483" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] A mother reads a bedtime story to her 5 year old son in Harare, Zimbabwe where the government has ordered a period of quarantine to fight against the coronavirus pandemic.[/caption] Over 130 countries (as of 17 April 2020) have used social protection measures to mitigate some of the socio-economic costs of both the pandemic and the containment measures, particularly on vulnerable groups. These measures include social assistance (e.g. family or child grants) and social insurance (e.g. unemployment insurance). Social protection measures to support low-income or vulnerable workers are also being introduced, including paid sick leave and waivers on rent and utilities payments. As their roles as unpaid carers becomes further entrenched, as schools stay closed, and as a global economic crisis looms, there is a real risk that efforts to invest in and promote gender parity and overall gender equality will be undermined or even jeopardised. Immediate attention across every sector is needed to safeguard rights and investments in women and girls. Given the longer-term impacts of COVID-19 on gendered and multi-dimensional poverty, social protection responses that do not address the fundamental drivers of gender inequality, including unpaid care and responsibilities, will entrench already existing gender inequalities. As COVID—19 amplifies these inequalities, now is a critical window of opportunity to build more effective social protection to endure through future pandemics. How social protection can address gender inequalities Gender-responsive age-sensitive social protection could recognise, reduce, and redistribute women’s care work. For example, providing childcare support to women with more care responsibilities and to frontline workers will balance paid work with unpaid care work. Italy’s “Cura Italia” stimulus package provides a childcare voucher of up to €600 for private-sector workers with children below the age of 12 who decide not to take parental leave. Cash transfers should include a care component by expanding the scope of existing cash transfers or creating new programmes targeted at paid and unpaid care workers. The El Salvador government has pledged $300 for up to 1.5 million households who work in the informal economy without financial safety. Increased and gender-responsive services to reduce care burdens. Providing hygiene kits and information about prevention measures or ensuring adequate access to water and sanitation are two ways of reducing care burdens. In Colombia, water services are provided free of charge for low-income families, while in Burkina Faso several utilities are being subsidised. Changing social norms around care provision is a long-term goal that needs consistent attention. Increasing men’s contribution to unpaid care and domestic work, for example through paid paternity leave and equal parental leave, can contribute to this. Austria’s COVID-19 response allows employees with childcare responsibilities to take up to 3 weeks of care leave on full pay.   Short-term measures alone will be insufficient to address the long-term impacts of the pandemic. Collectively financed and comprehensive social protection is needed. The crucial issue of care work must continue to be made visible to policy makers to ensure that effective and sustainable gender-responsive social protection approaches to the pandemic are adopted. This is especially critical for the most vulnerable groups, such as adolescent girls or migrant women. COVID-19 is an opportunity to bring about long-term changes to gender equality if social protection measures are introduced in a gender-responsive and age-sensitive way. The opportunity this pandemic has presented to improve the lives of those most vulnerable should not be squandered.   Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed is Gender & Development Manager at UNICEF Innocenti. Ramya Subrahmanian is Chief of Child Rights & Child Protection at UNICEF Innocenti. Discover our work on gender-responsive and age-sensitive social protection (GRASSP), funded by with UK aid by the UK government.
How involved are parents in their children’s learning? MICS6 data reveal critical insights
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How involved are parents in their children’s learning? MICS6 data reveal critical insights

It is widely understood that parents play a pivotal role in a child’s education – research suggests that parental involvement in a child’s education boosts well-being and confidence and is important for academic progression. With school closures due to the global COVID-19 pandemic affecting an estimated 1.58 billion children in more than 180 countries, the importance of parental involvement in education has suddenly and dramatically increased. Internationally comparable data on parental involvement and its impact on children’s education is extremely limited. To address this critical gap, round 6 of the UNICEF supported Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS6) includes a new module on parental involvement. It assesses two types of parental involvement – home-based and school-based – using a questionnaire devoted to collecting information for children aged 5-17 years at the household level. A selection of preliminary findings from this module are discussed below.   How does parental involvement in school differ between and within countries? One finding from countries with available MICS6 data is that there are large variations in levels of school-based parental involvement, which depends largely on whether schools have governing boards in which the parents can participate. In countries like Zimbabwe and the Kyrgyz Republic, almost all children attend schools with governing boards, whereas in Punjab (Pakistan) and Tunisia, fewer than 20 per cent of children attend schools with governing boards. Source: MICS6   However, the presence of a governing board does not translate into participation by all parents. In countries with similar percentages of children attending schools with governing boards, participation of parents in governing board meetings varies considerably. For example, although about 50-60 per cent of children in Mongolia, Georgia and Iraq attend schools with governing boards, parental involvement in board meetings is vastly different between these countries. Only 26 per cent of Mongolian children have parents who attended governing boards meetings compared to 33 per cent of Georgian children and 44 per cent of Iraqi children whose parents attend the meetings. Whether a child attends a school with a governing board is also closely linked to household wealth. In only four of the 13 countries analyzed – Zimbabwe, the Kyrgyz Republic, Lesotho and The Gambia – do children from the poorest quintile attend schools with governing boards on par with the national average. In the remaining countries, the percentage of poorest children who attend schools with governing boards is below the national average. Moreover, poorest parents participate in school governing boards at rates lower than the national average in all countries except in Zimbabwe, the Kyrgyz Republic and The Gambia. In summary, while the existence of school governing boards is important to school-based parental involvement, household wealth is also an important factor.   What are the differences in home-based parental involvement across countries? Similar to school-based parental involvement, the share of parents engaging in home-based parental involvement varies greatly between and within countries. For example, the share of children who receive help with homework is more than twice in Zimbabwe (89 per cent) than in Madagascar (42 per cent). MICS6 data show that household wealth is a major determinant of home-based parental involvement. Across all countries except Georgia, fewer children from lowest quintile received help with their homework than their peers from wealthier quintiles. In some countries, such as in Madagascar, Punjab (Pakistan) or Sierra Leone, the difference is quite large. Source: MICS6   Another determinant of home-based parental participation in education is the availability of books for children and household wealth. Here too we see wide disparities among countries – for example, most children in Georgia live in households which have child-oriented books, but more than 90 per cent of the poorest children in Punjab (Pakistan), Iraq, Madagascar, Lesotho and Zimbabwe live in households with not even one child-oriented book.   Source: MICS6   What can we do to ensure that all children, including the poorest, have educational support from parents at school and at home? The MICS6 Parental Involvement module provides important new insights into critical factors associated with children’s education. As revealed by these preliminary findings, parents from the poorest households may not be able to fully participate in, and help advance, their child’s education. New insights like this and others provided by MICS6 equip policymakers and researchers with powerful tools to better understand the nature and impacts of factors like parental involvement in a child’s education, and will be more thoroughly explored in the upcoming series of articles on the COVID-19 pandemic. By informing the creation of data-driven policies that direct support to the poorest families, MICS6 helps to give every child an equal opportunity to participate in education, even during times of crisis.  
From the global epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, insights on helping families and children cope
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From the global epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, insights on helping families and children cope

Just as the coronavirus outbreak reached its peak in the Italian province of Lombardy a group of health care professionals, many with Papa Giovanni XXIII hospital in Bergamo, published a short commentary which caught the attention of staff at the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti in Florence. Their simple message: COVID-19 was decimating their whole town and therefore required a completely new way of fighting the disease and its multiple side-effects ripping through their community. Bergamo is a picturesque city in the Lombardy Region of Northern Italy. Its immediate surroundings form part of one of the richest and most industrialized areas in Europe. Not far from the buzzing urban centre of Milan, Bergamo is also adjacent to a series of alpine valleys near the Swiss border where, by contrast, rural communities and their traditions are well preserved. A dark nightmare In mid-February, this peaceful community, with a pragmatic approach to life and deep-rooted traditions of care for others, plummeted into a dark nightmare whose end is still unknown. Even with one of the best standards of medical care in Europe, COVID-19 has completely overwhelmed Bergamo’s healthcare systems. The latest report of the National Institute of Statistics on mortality in Italy, based on data obtained from municipal registries, indicates that in March 2020, 5,400 persons died in Bergamo. Of this number, 4,500 deaths were apparently due to coronavirus. As reported by the local newspaper the total number of deaths is six times the number of deaths registered in the same period in 2019. The number of infected people is probably far higher than what is reported by official statistics, which are based on COVID-19 tests performed only in hospitals on symptomatic patients. According to the Italian Civil Protection agency, in March the province of Bergamo had 2,080 deaths and 8,803 infections confirmed by test swabs. Incredibly, by these statistics, the COVID-19 fatality rate in Bergamo is many times higher than the global fatality rate estimated by Imperial College London, published in The Lancet. In Bergamo almost every household contains or knows of someone who has either died or is fighting for their life due to the virus. The town has become well-known throughout Italy for the sad daily ritual of Italian military trucks transporting coffins to other regions. Local cemeteries and mortuaries in Bergamo were completely overwhelmed several weeks ago. [caption id="attachment_2461" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Doctors and nurses working non-stop at the ICU of the Hospital of Vizzolo Predabissi, in Lombardy.[/caption] Focus on households and communities In this unimaginable situation, each day doctors and nurses repeat a titanic and unparalleled effort against the virus. In the midst of this tragedy a group of physicians, community workers and local agencies set up a ‘multidisciplinary task force’ to reflect on Bergamo’s circumstances as the epicenter of the pandemic. When the authors of this piece began to contact them to find out what lessons they might share for countries yet to follow in their path, a series of important, yet less considered ideas began to emerge. First, they consider this pandemic a humanitarian crisis which requires new actions, new models, new thinking for them as well as for the international community and humanitarian agencies. Following the traditional patient-centered approach to care is no longer enough. A community-centered care approach is needed to respond to the challenges that the emergency is posing. Developing a sustainable model can be crucially important project for the entire world, Bergamo being, at this moment, arguably among the hardest hit cities in the world. One of the first lessons they shared was the absolute necessity to reverse the ingrained idea that the hospital is where you should rush for urgent care. All too often, families repeated the mistake of speeding family members struggling to breath to the hospital, only to be engulfed in the most contagious environment possible. In Bergamo the health care community quickly realized that aggressive community-based measures were needed to identify and keep moderate cases best suited to recovery at home, as far away from the hospital as possible. From the start it became clear that households played a central role in the community response. Children - the hidden victims In such a dramatic situation, children and their families – especially the most vulnerable and fragile –quickly become the ‘hidden-victims’ of this crisis. Not considered at high risk of succumbing to the virus, nevertheless urgent measures to support a range of spill-over effects had to be put in place. Municipal governments and civil society groups together with psychological and health services have started to implement various channels of remote response to emerging needs. They are focusing first on relatives of hospitalized patients and health workers (“Curare chi cura”). They are also working to ensure continuity of care for vulnerable persons and children with disabilities already being assisted by health services. [caption id="attachment_2464" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] A family in Bergamo, Italy made a rainbow out of clothes hung outside her house, involving their children and the next door neighbours. The message on the flag says: "Courage Italy".[/caption] A team of pediatric psychiatrists, also based at Papa Giovanni XXIII hospital, has conceptualized (for discussion) an ecological model to promote and support protective factors for children based on three main strands: family, community and schools. Central to this approach is the concept that the adults in children’s lives are the primary channel for most forms of care and support. In a Bergamo-type scenario almost everyone who is sick with something other than COVID-19 is unable to receive medical treatment. The implications of this are horrifying for everyone, but for children, especially vulnerable children, this can equate to lifelong consequences. This situation offers perhaps the most powerful argument of all for staying home at all costs and reducing the chance of a broken bone or a bicycle accident leading to a hospital trip and almost certain exposure of the virus. Care for children by supporting caregivers It is crucial to look at stressors on caregivers, teachers and child social service providers and to strengthen networks across families, local institutions (municipalities), schools, social workers and physicians. These networks must be supported to maximize efforts to reach not only those children who are already receiving medical and social support, but also those children at risk of becoming invisible without a system in place to help and support them before their conditions become pathological. Many children in Bergamo live in families that have experienced one or more deaths. While grieving over lost family members, they live in fear of more infections along with deep anxiety over the loss of household income. In this setting children’s emotional needs often fade from view. They do not have adequate opportunities to be heard, and often refrain from asking questions to avoid increasing the burden on their parents. They cannot share their own fears with friends at school or mitigate them by playing with classmates. Largely, they remain unheard, while adults try to cope with multiple difficulties at the same time. Adolescents and young people may feel a sense of pride in their ability to help their families and community to adjust to the online reality they now all live in. Bergamo pediatric psychiatrists observe that for some adolescents, familiarity with the internet appears to be more like an asset that is keeping them connected with friends, social networks and information. For those who do show signs of distress, services providers are creating networks to share resources and knowledge to better target and differentiate their interventions. Within these networks, pediatricians will play a critical role in early warning of signs of distress. Mental health - before, during and afterwards Bergamo mental health specialists highlight the importance of strengthening communication between hospital staff and family. Families are bombarded with life and death situations affecting their loved ones and there is an urgent need for hospital staff trained to inform families of critical situations in the most sensitive manner combined with the offer of psychological support. Often this can be a crucial first step in restoring a sense of community, as well as a means of addressing emotions and concerns for the entire family. Building and strengthening a sense of community is also an important component in overcoming the barrier of stigma associated with revealing one’s weakness or the need for help. This can be a challenging social norm in places like Bergamo, often preventing people from asking for the support they need and worsening household circumstances where vulnerable children live. The Bergamo team proposes that a pool of institutions and representatives serving various sectors of the community develop a "Charter to live with COVID-19" – at both the community and family levels – to engage the whole community, down to the household level, and to promote use of the resources put in place by the various stakeholders, in most cases on the internet. The ‘Community Charter’ would promote solidarity and support to alleviate the burden of a health crisis which has also become a social and economic crisis. It would prioritize and make more accessible concrete services to cope with the emergency, including economic and psycho-social support. [caption id="attachment_2475" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] A 7 year old boy does homework that his teachers sent to his parents via WhatsApp, Rome , Italy.[/caption] The ‘Family Charter,’ on the other hand, should locate and identify fragile families and parents, helping them with concrete suggestions on how to support their children, maintain routines, and organize moments of lightness together. It would help parents and caregivers to acquire the necessary skills to recognize signals of distress in children which would require referral. Crucial in this work will be building multiple layers of support for parents who have been serving as nurturers, caregivers, teachers, counselors and supporters of children and young people. Schools intersect all children's lives Lastly, school is the one agency that intersects the lives of almost all children. Health professionals say they have not observed significant disparities in learning during the period of school closure, due, in their view, to Bergamo’s very high standard of living. But the true picture of educational disparity could be unclear, with all attention still on saving human lives. However, educational authorities need to start thinking about how to support children when they come back to class. And teachers will need enormous support as they come in contact with the social and emotional trauma on children who have spent months in quarantine as family and friends succumbed around them. For many children, especially for the most vulnerable and fragile, schools represent the only familiar and constant space for social and emotional support. Planning a shared community moment at the beginning of the next school year can provide an opportunity to talk about what occurred and to empathetically listen to everyone's stories. The lead author of the paper referenced in the beginning of this narrative emphasizes that concerted international humanitarian response is needed in places like Bergamo. He also warns that the coronavirus outbreak should not be confused with an earthquake. The symptom profile and population dynamics of the contagion requires a prolonged multi-sectoral, multi-phase response that could take quite different forms along the way. [caption id="attachment_2462" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] A home visit physician visiting a COVID-19 patient with mild symptoms at his home in Lombardy.[/caption] Summary of lessons on caring for children and families – Outlined by Bergamo health workers The symptom profile and trajectory of COVID-19 makes it almost impossible for existing data systems to explain the true scope of the problem; The virus cannot be fought with a patient focused approach to care; it can only be attacked effectively with a community care approach; Children and families are not the most vulnerable to COVID-19 contagion, but they are vulnerable to being hidden or sidelined in the worst hit communities; It is essential to reverse the ingrained response that the hospital is where people should rush for urgent care as they become the most dangerous hotbeds of infection, and where children can easily become asymptomatic cases; Children (and adults) who are sick with anything other than COVID-19 will almost certainly be neglected; perhaps the most compelling reason to remain at home and minimize the chance of an accident or injury that would ordinarily lead to a hospital visit; Focus on stressors affecting parents, caregivers, teachers and child social service providers and strengthen networks that support them across families, local institutions (municipalities), schools, social workers and physicians; Keep children’s emotional needs uppermost and ensure they have space to express their opinions and that they are encouraged to do so. High standards of living and low inequality are no assurance that educational equity is being maintained during school closure; Adolescents may feel a sense of pride in their ability to help family members adjust to the new reality of a fully online community; often their deep experience with online interaction can be a powerful source for connection, social networks and vital information for themselves and their families; Prioritize training of hospital staff in sensitive communication with loved ones following the death of a relative as this has been observed to mitigate the impact of intense grief on children and families; Even in such a devastating period social stigma against expressing weakness or asking for assistance can be a severe obstacle to working through households to address the needs of children; Establishing a ‘Charter to Live with COVID-19’ can be a powerful tool for communities and families to assert their determination to survive and focus on the needs of the most vulnerable members of their homes and neighborhoods; Provide support to adults who will be called on to shoulder far more that their usual responsibilities as they must be the hands that health, social work, education and protection services for children are delivered during quarantine; Teachers and schools provide a crucial continuum of support that often goes far beyond learning both during quarantine and in the very sensitive period immediately afterwards. They need more support that is commonly considered at this stage.   Patrizia Faustini is Sr Communication Associate and Dale Rutstein is Chief of Communication at the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti. The writers would like to acknowledge the following physical and mental health professionals of Bergamo who generously contributed their insights and their precious time during the worst health crisis to hit their community in centuries. Susanna Ambrosino, Psychologist Lorella Giuliana Caffi,  Child Neuropsychiatrist Andrea Ciocca, Project Coordinator Sara Forlani, Child Neuropsychiatrist Donatella Fusari, Physiotherapist Ludovica Ghilardi, Research Fellow, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Claudia Guuva, Child Neuropsychiatrist Francesca Lesmo, Psychologist Michela Marzaroli, Child Neuropsychiatrist Mirco Nacoti, MD, Anesthesia and Intensive Care Anna Polo Resmi, Child Neuropsychiatrist Anna Maria Scioti, Psychologist Patrizia Maria Carla Stoppa, Child Neuropsychiatrist
Five ways governments are responding to violence against women and children during COVID-19
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Five ways governments are responding to violence against women and children during COVID-19

While the world may have been caught off guard by the size and ramifications of the COVID-19 crisis, it should be prepared to respond to the increased risks to the wellbeing and safety of children and women. Violence against children and violence against women are widespread globally and intrinsically linked, sharing common risk factors and similar adverse and severe consequences. The literature within pandemics may be limited, but we have enough evidence to say unequivocally that related factors—such as confinement, social isolation, increased levels of financial stress, and weak institutional responses—can increase or intensify levels of violence. Indeed, over the past month, reports have warned of the “perfect storm”, manifesting in increased calls to helplines, online support services, and police reports. Indeed, over the past month, reports have warned of the “perfect storm”, manifesting in increased calls to helplines, online support services, and police reports. Multinational organisations quickly took action, issuing statements warning of increased risk of both forms of violence, while researchers reviewed evidence from past crises, proposing policy actions to mitigate against potential harm to populations in situations of vulnerability. As governments ramp up response to COVID-19, what is actually being done to combat violence? 1. Expansion of helplines and information sharing Information is being shared widely through guides, resources, and advocacy targeting friends and family members. Parenting for Lifelong Health has compiled evidence-supported guidance for safe parenting during quarantine. Helplines and online support platforms are being expanded or established. Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, is preventing “an emergency within an emergency” by advertising the 1522 helpline for violence and stalking. Numerous other countries are committing to keeping helplines and information channels open during and after the peak of COVID-19. 2. Funding shelters and other safe accommodation options for survivors Numerous countries have acknowledged that additional safe housing is needed during times of quarantine. Safe accommodation allows survivors (and accompanying minors) to temporarily escape abusers. As part of its COVID-19 relief package, Canada has allocated $50 million to women’s shelters and sexual assault centres [March 18]. In France, a €1.1 million funding increase for anti-abuse organisations included 20,000 hotel nights for survivors to escape abusive partners [March 30]. In Trento (Italy), a prosecutor ruled that in situations of domestic violence the abuser must leave the family home rather than the victim [March 28]. Similar rulings have been given in Austria and Germany. Although a laudable decision, it makes guaranteeing the safety of survivors, who remain at home a challenge given that perpetrators know where to reach them and may have access to the home. [caption id="attachment_2451" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Sixteen-year-old Julia attends online school from home while her parents telework during the Coronavirus outbreak in New York.[/caption] 3. Expansion of access to services for survivors As quarantine limits personal mobility and freedom of movement, some countries are finding ways to expand access to violence-related services. France has initiated ‘pop up’ centres in grocery stores, where women are likely to be already visiting [March 30]. In a number of countries (including France, Italy, and Spain), a specific 'code word' signals to pharmacies to contact the relevant authorities. Some countries have released or improved concealed apps through which women can seek services to avoid calling in close quarters with abusers (see Italy, UK, among others). Protection services for women and children must be considered “essential” and not locked down due to COVID-19.  4. Limiting risk factors associated with violence Some countries are tackling the negative ways of coping with COVID-19 that may exacerbate the risk of violence. Greenland has banned alcohol sales in its capital Nuuk to reduce the risk of violence against children in the home [March 29]. South Africa has taken similar measures [26 March]. While alcohol abuse and problematic drinking is shown to be linked to more severe violent episodes, the relationship is complex and there is limited evidence of how alcohol-related policies affect violence. Other countries, however, have yet to take proactive steps to limit associated risks. Curtailing gun sales, for example, would limit access to fatal weapons at a time of heightened stress, potentially reducing the risk of female homicide and child deaths. Smart policy action can reduce risk of harm and facilitate positive outlets to reduce stress and promote mental health. 5. Modifications to family law and justice systems Australia has implemented a number of modifications to family law to allow the justice system to better respond to cases during quarantine [April 3]. First, they allow courts to impose electronic monitoring requirements for bail and conditionally suspend imprisonment orders. Second, they enable online filing of restraining orders. Third, they create a new offence, increased fine, and extended limitation period for restraining orders. As more countries experience extended periods of curtained justice services, further innovation and amendments are needed to ensure the protection of survivors in challenging situations. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXxnZKom6sg[/embed] These actions are commendable, however many countries have still not committed resources to increase services. Initial policy responses are largely in high-income countries, which may reflect the reality that many resource-poor settings have limited budgets for addressing violence against children and violence against women even when there is no crisis. Where and how should resources be targeted? While reported cases and numbers from existing services give us a signal of what might be happening, they also give an imperfect picture. For example, in some settings, calls to domestic violence hotlines have decreased, possibly because survivors are in ear shot of perpetrators in quarantine and are unable to safely seek help. In others, demand for shelters has decreased, potentially because survivors are afraid of contracting COVID-19 within close quarters at shelters. In addition, some routine detection systems are closed, such as teachers or social workers. Already in the US, several states have reported reductions in child abuse and maltreatment, believed to be due to a reduction in detection, rather than occurrence. Further, increased time spent on phones and using computers to communicate in place of in-person interactions also poses additional avenues for perpetration of new forms of violence online, including sexual harassment, exploitation, and abuse. Mitigation efforts must address the diverse forms of violence connected with COVID-19. Actions taken must be continuously monitored to ensure they are having intended effects, and do not result in unintended harm. “For many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest. In their own homes.” As the UN Secretary-General urgently calls for peace in homes around the world, we hope that this non-exhaustive list of government responses will provide some inspiration for further action. When it comes to preventing and reducing violence and supporting survivors, everyone has a part to play, particularly in these unprecedented times.   Alessandra Guedes is the Gender & Development Research Manager at UNICEF Innocenti. Amber Peterman is a Social Policy Specialist with UNICEF Innocenti and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dina Deligiorgis is Policy Specialist on ending violence against women at UN Women.
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