UNICEF Celebrates 25 years of Research on Child Rights at Ospedale degli Innocenti
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is well known for its role in responding to complex humanitarian crises affecting children around the world. The work of the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, based at the 600-year-old Ospedale degli Innocenti, in Florence, Italy rarely hits world headlines. Yet over the quarter century of its existence UNICEF at Innocenti has produced ground-breaking analytical work which has informed action and shifted global development discourse on critical child rights issues.In order to mark its 25th Anniversary, the Office recently convened a special anniversary seminar to reflect on achievements and look toward future directions for research at Innocenti. In its historic Renaissance surroundings former directors and senior researchers, together with a constellation of local and national Italian partners, shared their experiences and insights. On behalf of the Italian Government, the Office’s most generous financial donor, Luca Zelioli, First Counsellor, Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, delivered opening remarks.Inaugurated in 1988 as the UNICEF International Child Development Centre, with a broad mandate to contribute to an “emerging global ethic for children,” research quickly became a defining mission and the institution’s name soon evolved to Innocenti Research Centre, and finally to the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti.“When we moved here these were turbulent years, the Berlin Wall was falling, adjustment in Africa was not working so there was a lost decade in Africa and Latin America and there was a big debate on how to finance health, education and nutrition in developing countries,” recalled Giovanni Andrea Cornia, UNICEF’s first Chief of Socio-Economic Policy at Innocenti (1989 – 1995). During years of global economic recession Innocenti produced a succession of important studies in Africa and Latin America which provided an evidence base for UNICEF’s global call for “adjustment with a human face.”Following ratification of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, a range of research projects at Innocenti contributed significantly in shaping UNICEF’s adoption of the human rights-based approach to development. Innocenti pioneered much early work on child protection. Numerous studies focused on what were deemed “emerging issues” in the 1990’s such as child trafficking, children in conflict with the law and child labour.Research on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child conducted at Innocenti allowed UNICEF to explore aspects of children’s development which were considered sensitive or taboo subjects in various cultural and national contexts. According to Nigel Cantwell, child protection expert and former senior officer (1998–2003), Innocenti has explored themes leading the global discourse on children’s issues, often producing work which pushed a range of sensitive child rights issues into the mainstream of global programming and service delivery.“Juvenile justice is an area where there is often a total lack of understanding as to what actually works in terms of preventing and responding to offending by young people,” said Cantwell. “Juvenile justice has become more integrated into UNICEF programming, and I think that Innocenti helped to pave the way for it to gradually move out of the sensitive issue area.”Panellists highlighted the important benefits of a UNICEF research centre located apart from headquarters, empowered to pursue an independent research agenda.Gordon Alexander, recently retired Director (2010–2013) pointed out Innocenti’s unique ability to take a long term, multi-disciplinary approach to knowledge on children. “There are very few places in the world where research for children in all its dimensions actually comes together. I think that is something that is very special to Innocenti.”In recent years Innocenti has played a leading role in improving social and economic policy for vulnerable children in both poor and rich countries. The Innocenti Report Card series, based on league tables which compare child well-being among OECD nations, has risen in prominence to become one of UNICEF’s most visible flagship publications. Through the Report Card, Innocenti has expanded substantive advocacy for vulnerable children in the developed world with UNICEF’s network of National Committees.Mehr Khan-Williamson, former Innocenti Director (1998–2000), reflected on the challenges she faced initiating the series. “Starting the Report Cards was not easy…these were Board Members, they were donor countries and we are an inter-governmental organization and not much can be said to those who are also feeding you. But the issues were essential and they had to be dealt with.”Reflecting on the emergence of Innocenti’s current incarnation, Gordon Alexander recalled how the Executive Board defined its current mission. “UNICEF has always been right at the heart of research, in many areas. It was a tremendous user and a convener of research and occasionally it did brilliant pieces of research. But there was never a permanent home for research, and that is what gave rise to the idea of linking the work of Innocenti with the more global approach.”Today at Innocenti UNICEF plays a critical evidence gathering and knowledge building role on a wide range of cutting-edge children’s issues. It is a leading centre on impact evaluation of cash transfers. It coordinates multi-country research on the drivers of violence affecting children. It plays a central role in adolescent well-being, child rights and the internet, child rights implementation, family and parenting support policy and multi-dimensional child poverty analysis.A special 25th Anniversary e-publication “Children and Research at Innocenti: 25 years of UNICEF Commitment” was formally launched in both English and Italian at the Seminar. It is an invaluable small volume for anyone seeking the story of how UNICEF’s presence at Innocenti emerged and evolved over the last 25 years.
Mary Daly answers critical questions on family and parenting support
A recent question and answer Mary Daly is Professor of Sociology and Social Policy, at Oxford University, and lead researcher on the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti publication: “Family and Parenting Support: Policy and Provision in a Global Context.” Her research interests and expertise are primarily focused on the analysis of social policy in advanced OECD countries. Most of her work is comparative, in a European and international context, and interdisciplinary. Her research interest focus broadly on: family policy, gender, care, poverty and welfare and EU social policy. How should family and parenting support be defined ? It is very important to have clear definitions and goals of all policies but especially those in the areas of family support and parenting support because they are relatively new fields of policy and also because they touch about issues that are sensitive. The following is an overview of the two types of policy. Family support is a set of (service and other) activities oriented to improving family functioning and grounding child-rearing and other familial activities in a system of supportive relationships and resources (both formal and informal); Parenting support is a set of (service and other) activities oriented to improving how parents approach and execute their role as parents and to increasing parents’ child-rearing resources (including information, knowledge, skills and social support) and competencies. What kind of issues can family and parenting support address?Family support and parenting support are being developed in response to a wide range of problems such as widespread poverty and child underdevelopment. In practice, a clear set of underlying objectives and ideas is not always articulated, in either policy or provision. Thinking this through there are three potentially different sets of orientations in family support and parenting support: Focusing on children/adolescents and aiming for child-related outcomes such as furthering a children’s rights approach, ameliorating child risk or adolescent risk, improving early childhood development and combating anti-social behaviour or marginalisation.Focusing on parents so as to improve parental competence and/or enlist parents’ help in their children’s development. Focusing on the family so as to improve family functioning, address family poverty and address structural weaknesses. What are the typical goals? There are many different types of family support and parenting support. Most usually they are oriented to two goals: improving the family or individual parent’s level of information and/or education; changing family or individual functioning. So as well as information and education training may be given in parental and family-related skills and also people may be enabled to find or be provided with (social) support. What outcomes can be planned for or expected? To a large extent, the outcomes expected and associated with family support and parenting support (and indeed any provision) depend on factors such as how the policy and/or provision are defined and conceptualised, the objectives and aims set, the designated resources, and so forth. For purposes of setting out an analytic framework though, one must go beyond such relativity and on the one hand be more specific and on the other be open to unintended consequences. One way of achieving both is to conceive of outcomes in terms of particular categories encompassing the situation of the child and adolescent, parents, families and the community (understood in an immediate sense of the actors involved locally but also in a more general sense of the resources and capacities of the local area as well as the nation as a whole). Outcomes can also be seen and planned for as short and long term. What form do family support and parenting support take? They can take the form of one-to-one sessions, group sessions or simply information given on a face-to-face or remote basis. Sometimes they are given as casework services and sometimes as education services and sometimes as peer support. Where are they located in the policy landscape? Another important element is where to locate the provisions as a service (or if one is researching them – where to find them). The evidence from different countries indicates that family support and parenting support may be located in six different policy areas: family services, child protection, early childhood education and care, health, education and social protection. Who are the family support and parenting support workers? Those involved in providing family support and parenting support vary widely in terms of their professional background and their level of training. In some countries social workers and/or pedagogues are the leading staff involved but in other cases it is people who have relatively little training. Volunteers are also quite widely involved in providing parenting support especially when it is oriented to providing more general social support to parents and families. What philosophies or theoretical approaches underpin family and parenting support?A wide range of child-related and social learning theories have influenced parenting support measures. The relevant theories and concepts usually cited as influential in family support include: attachment theory, ecological theory of human development and social capital. In parenting support social learning theory, cognitive behaviour and theories oriented to empowerment are among the primary influences. Who are the main actors involved in promoting and developing family and parenting support? There are three very important sets of actors: the state and the public authorities and political actors more generally; the international organisations; civil society, faith-based and community-oriented actors. It is important to pose the question of whether the voices and needs of parents and children are given enough priority in the services. What are the most salient aspects of the context? For the purposes of planning and delivering family support and parenting support, it is very important to take account of the elements of the context in which they emerge and are set. The most important such factors include: cultural factors - such as the general value or belief system and prevailing public and other discourses relating to childhood, adolescence, childrearing and family relationships;social factors – such as the societal setting in which family and parenting (and related values, concepts, policies and activities) are carried out and acquire meaning; economic factors – such as the existing (local, national or regional) economic context, the financial and other resources available and the resource infrastructure (human and material) more broadly (including also informal resources);policy infrastructure and background – such as the policy system (consisting of all relevant policies and programmes), legal background and the administrative and other components of the infrastructure.
Cohort and longitudinal studies have unique potential to improve understanding of the dynamic nature and processes that shape child development. These studies are also distinct in their ability to bring a life-course perspective to analysis, with a potential to respond to specific questions about children’s pathways and developmental trajectories.
Luisa's story - an 11 year old girl living in poverty
Luisa (identity protected) shares a three-roomed apartment with her mother, step-father and 9 other family members. Her step-father lost his job in construction in 2007 and her mom has been unable to find any lasting work. The family relies on a soup kitchen for food and donations of clothing from neighbors. 'One day my friend saw me at the soup kitchen and since then my friends don’t talk to me anymore and treat me like someone who is in need.' 'What I would like in the future is to change the world, to do what I can to help people, to help the poor and give them what they need. Everybody will have a stable house. Everybody will be well and nobody will be in need.'