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Profiles

Dominic Richardson

Chief, Social and Economic Policy

Dominic Richardson leads Social Policy and Economic Analysis at UNICEF, Office of Research – Innocenti, where he oversees work on cash transfers and cash plus programmes in sub-Saharan Africa, multiple overlapping deprivation analysis, the Innocenti Report Card Series, and research on family policies and child well-being. Dominic previously worked with OECD Social Policy Division on a broad range of studies covering child well-being, evaluating family policies, integrating human services, and social impact investment. Dominic has led or co-authored multiple reports on comparative child well-being in high-income countries, and in 2014, was the lead researcher on a joint EC OECD project evaluating the content and quality of international surveys of school children in high and middle- income countries. In 2018, Dominic was awarded the Jan Trost Award for Outstanding Contributions in International Family Studies by the National Council for Family Relations in the United States.

Publications

The impact of the war in Ukraine and subsequent economic downturn on child poverty in Eastern Europe and Central Asia
Publication

The impact of the war in Ukraine and subsequent economic downturn on child poverty in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

This brief undertakes a regional analysis of the impact of the war in Ukraine – and subsequent economic downturn – on the situation of children in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. We specifically examine the impacts on child poverty, school years lost, and infant mortality. Based on a demographic snapshot of the region, our models predict that an additional 10 million people – including about 4 million children – will be pushed into poverty compared to pre-war predictions. About 4,500 more children will die before their first birthday, and 117,000 years of schooling will be lost. The brief concludes with implications for the work of UNICEF and government partners in addressing these poverty risks.
The role of social protection in the elimination of child labour: Evidence review and policy implications
Publication

The role of social protection in the elimination of child labour: Evidence review and policy implications

How relaxing develops and affects well-being throughout childhood
Publication

How relaxing develops and affects well-being throughout childhood

From a developmental perspective, skills or capacities, such as ‘relaxing’, are commonly considered necessary for children to achieve optimal development and reach their full potential. From this perspective ‘relaxing’ can be considered a capacity that could help children to cope with emotional and behavioural problems and lower their levels of stress and anxiety. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first attempt to map the existing evidence of cultivating ‘relaxing’ as a key core capacity with an explicit focus on children, and understand age-related development, links to wellbeing and other core capacities, and the levels and application of ‘relaxing’ among significant adults in children’s lives. These contributions will help inform real, positive and efficient changes in general policies and practices for child development.
What Makes Me? Core capacities for living and learning
Publication

What Makes Me? Core capacities for living and learning

This report explores how ‘core capacities’ – or cornerstones of more familiar concepts, such as life skills and competences – develop over the early part of the life course, and how they contribute to children’s personal well-being and development.

Articles

Social protection for children not adequate according to new World Social Protection report
Article

Social protection for children not adequate according to new World Social Protection report

A new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) provides a global overview of progress made around the world over the past decade in extending social protection and building rights-based social protection systems, in the context of COVID-19, and with input from UNICEF Innocenti on social protection gaps and opportunities for children.

Blogs

Reducing poverty while achieving gender equality: the potential of social protection
Blog

Reducing poverty while achieving gender equality: the potential of social protection

The UNICEF Office of Research—Innocenti has launched a new four-year research programme called Gender-Responsive and Age-Sensitive Social Protection (GRASSP), funded by the United Kingdom’s Department of International Development (DFID), and other partners. The research programme will examine how gender-responsive and age-sensitive social protection can reduce poverty and achieve gender equality sustainably. It will also examine how social protection can better address and prevent stubborn vulnerabilities and inequalities experienced by people simply because of their sex or age. Why GRASSP matters now? The timing of this work could not be more opportune. In 2020 the SDGs enter a decade of acceleration toward the lofty goal of leaving no one behind. Among the many targets we find: end all forms of poverty everywhere (Goal 1), achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls (Goal 5), and empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all—irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion, or economic or other status (Target 10.2). Five years ago, when the SDGs were launched, the UN General Assembly pledged that steps to ‘follow up and review’ these goals would be ‘evidence informed.’ With ten years to go, and more evidence to build, the GRASSP research programme is well-placed to support these ambitions. GRASSP also begins in a landmark year for other international commitments on gender equality, poverty reduction, and social protection. The 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action at the Fourth World Conference on Women (1995) will be a time for reflection on how Governments have delivered on their commitments to advance the goals of equality, development, and peace for all women, everywhere. The Commission on the Status of Women in March will review and appraise the progress made since, including assessing current challenges affecting implementation. 2020 also marks a year for action as the Economic and Social Council (ESC) called on all States to undertake comprehensive national-level reviews of progress made and challenges encountered since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration. Specifically, the ESC is encouraging UN Regional Commissions to feed into a global review, and has urged national governments to collaborate in this process with all relevant stakeholders—including civil society organizations, community leaders, the private sector, United Nations entities, and academia—so as to benefit from their experience and expertise.Jhuma Akhter (14) at the Maitry Adolescent Club, where teenagers learn life skills after school, in Khulna, Bangladesh.What the evidence does not yet tell us? It is clear that international bodies and national governments are using evidence to strengthen their initiatives and ambitions for achieving gender equity, as well as reducing poverty and vulnerability in a gender and age-sensitive way. This leads to the question, ‘what does the evidence tell us and what do we not yet know?’ During the inception phase for GRASSP, which ran through late 2018 and 2019, the research team at Innocenti compiled a wealth of evidence on gender inequalities. This evidence highlights the unequal burden of poverty on women and girls, how women are lagging behind on labour market outcomes, and the impact of many other adverse socio-economic outcomes, including unequal responsibility for care and domestic work. Across 11 expert think pieces, further evidence shows how social protection can have intended and unintended positive effects on development outcomes, often for women and girls. There is also evidence on how social protection policy design and implementation can be considered more or less gender-sensitive along a gender integration continuum. Despite this learning, much of the evidence, as yet, does not explore the impact of age, when adolescent girls may be direct or indirect recipients of social protection. In order to break the inter-generational and interlinked cycles of gender disadvantage and inequality, we need to know more about these age-sensitive impacts across the life-course for women and girls, including which age groups benefit most from gender-responsive social protection, and how design and implementation can be tailored for them. Implementation is another critical stage in the social protection delivery cycle where we don’t have much evidence. For example, are programmes being delivered in the way they were designed and  do they respond to women’s needs? There is limited evidence on the factors that influence the development of gender-responsive social protection systems, including the political economy needed for reform. While evaluations show the positive effects of social protection, indicators used to assess the transformative potential of social protection are limited. We do not know enough about design and implementation features linked to both positive and negative effects. Furthermore, the role of bureaucrats and frontline workers in shaping outcomes on the ground is well-noted in feminist literature and brings an additional set of measures and opportunities for learning.Mother leaders of a cash transfer programme in the community of Tanandava, MadagascarHow will GRASSP fill these evidence gaps? Over the next four years, GRASSP will fill some of these gaps by working across multiple regions and using a mix of research methods, to capitalize on this demand for evidence and to support action for gender-responsive and age-sensitive social protection. Three streams of work will: Reconceptualize the intersection of gender and social protection using a life-course lens, and review the existing literature using this approach;Evaluate the impacts and assess the role of design implementation features in social protection programmes to contribute to gender equality;Unpack the political economy and practicalities of public policy reform involving gender-responsive social protection.GRASSP’s multi-country approach to research compares similar policies and programmes implemented in very different contexts. This improves understanding of the generalisability of good practices, and how these can be scaled within, and transferred between, countries with gender-responsive and age-sensitive social protection. The mix of quantitative and qualitative research strategies allows us to not only to understand the incidence and pervasiveness of gender inequalities (and the programmes to address these), but also the lived experiences of individuals, households, policymakers, and other stakeholders either receiving or delivering these policies. GRASSP is a multi-stakeholder partnership between UNICEF country offices, national Governments, universities, international organisations, and donors. This collaboration exploits synergies to advance the gender-responsive social protection research agenda through rigorous evidence to inform decision-making and stimulate debate, with the aim of putting gender equality at the forefront of social protection research, discourse, policy, and practice. We look forward to the work unfolding and engaging with many collaborators and interested researchers, advocates, practitioners, and policy makers as we go along!   Dominic Richardson leads Social Policy and Economic Analysis at UNICEF Innocenti, where he oversees work on cash transfers in sub-Saharan Africa, multiple overlapping deprivation analysis, the Innocenti Report Card Series, and research on family policies and child well-being. Ramya Subrahmanian is Chief of Child Rights and Protection at UNICEF-Innocenti, where she oversees work on migration, violence against children, and child protection.Explore UNICEF Innocenti’s work on Gender-Responsive and Age-Sensitive Social Protection. Read 11 think pieces by gender and social protection experts written to stimulate discussion on the topic.
League tables apart: Report Card 14 League Table on children and the SDGs
Blog

League tables apart: Report Card 14 League Table on children and the SDGs

The League Table presented in UNICEF’s latest Innocenti Report Card 14, Building the Future: Children and the Sustainable Development Goals in Rich Countries, clearly shows which high-income countries are doing well, and which are doing poorly, in terms of achieving outcomes for their children as broadly defined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The League Table orders countries depending on how high they rank, on average, across nine SDGs, and then into three groups of ‘high’, ‘medium’; and ‘low’ performers. At the higher reaches of the table, those countries accustomed to performing well – Nordic and other western European countries – can be found. At the lower end, poorer eastern European countries, and both middle and high-income countries from the Americas, make up the numbers. Even so, in almost all cases, countries do not perform predictably across all the goals. Mexico ranks near the top in education and Norway nearer the bottom in peace and justice. in almost all cases, countries do not perform predictably across all the goals. Mexico ranks near the top in education and Norway nearer the bottom in peace and justice.The League Table for Report Card 14 shows greater consistency in ranking among goals that represent ‘traditional’ social policy areas (education, poverty, hunger, health, etc.) on the left-hand side of the table, and some surprises in terms of ‘newly-defined’ goals (sustainable cities, responsible consumption, peace and justice [violence]) on the right. CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE TABLEFindings on the newly defined goals are explained in the Report Card as new challenges for all countries, often with supranational influences, and therefore as challenges which require concerted international effort for tangible progress. In this sense, it is the first of the Innocenti Report Card series to draw out how actions in higher-income settings can have repercussions for children globally. Another reason to look at new goals and measures is that: in order to effectively address a new social challenge, the first step is to measure it. The League Table in Report Card 14, by channeling the ambitions of the SDGs, measures some new ambitions, and so begins the process of addressing them. Some will be surprised that violence and pollution are as high as they are in countries traditionally seen as ‘successful’, or that environmental awareness can be so low. Rather than dismiss these out of hand, the League Table stands as a record of these concerns, and an incentive to further explore their determinants and to identify the means for effective change. A League Table communicates relative success or failure ‘at a glance’. It is the shop window, announcing: “Have we got your attention yet? Come in, take a closer look around.” This is where the discussion starts, not where it ends. As the discussion begins The League Table also provides some points for the agenda. It sets out the first ambitions for progress, provides a rationale, and suggests appropriate comparators for general learning, and perhaps even policy lessons and potential recommendations for reform. It is, after all, quite natural to take a cue from those around us, set our standards as a group, and even imitate each other. To achieve our ends, it helps to know who we might replicate, or who we can learn from. But directions are not directives, and criticism for this type of analysis will generally start with ‘What now?’ A league table necessarily obscures the details of its parts, and so it is here that policymakers need to tease it apart to find the details on what to prioritise, and begin the process of achieving long term goals for children most effectively. Invariably a Report Card is questioned hard about the merits of publishing a League Table including the ‘richest countries’ of the world – Germany, the US, the Nordics – with some not immediately recognized as comparators, such as Mexico and Turkey. It would be unfortunate if League Tables that reflect business-as-usual in cross-country comparative analysis were discounted for this reason. CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGEFurthermore, critics of a statistical mind will point to the risk of encouraging policymakers to view climbing the League Table as a goal in itself. According to Goodhart’s law: "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure." If efforts are focused on measures intended help a country perform better on tables result in as poorly informed trade-offs between goals for children, rather than improving all goals for all children, it will not have met its purpose. Fourteen Innocenti Report Cards and fourteen league tables later, the debate continues. With Report Card 14 we hope to bring attention to all the most pressing issues that impact upon the rights and needs of children in high-income countries – in the context of the SDGs, at this critical point in time. We hope the reaction of policy makers and duty bearers is not to immediately question the standing – though we are confident they will bear scrutiny – but instead to pay heed to where they stand on specific indicators.  On issues that matter for children, and so for the future, facing up to the challenge of these results, and learning from both successes and failures across countries, is much more important.   Dominic Richardson is education officer with UNICEF Innocenti and lead author of the key background paper paper for Report Card 14 "Comparing  child-focused SDGs in high-income countries: Indicator development and overview" . Explore the UNICEF Innocenti research catalogue for new publications. Follow UNICEF Innocenti on Twitter and sign up for e-newsletters on any page of the UNICEF Innocenti website.
Improving school systems from beyond school walls
Blog

Improving school systems from beyond school walls

No one would disagree that education systems should develop every child’s personal and social skills, and should equip them with the competencies needed for adult work. Recognising this, governments aim to achieve the dual ambitions of economic growth and social stability through investment in schools.However, with limited public appetite for higher spending, and increasing (but not always convincing) evidence on the value of private schooling, governments know that they are not simply free to “break the bank.”What is more, a glance at what is achieved through public spending on education services cross-nationally (whether on enrolment, attainment, learning or equity), shows governments in all countries can do better. Despite education being lauded as life’s ‘great equaliser’ and the vast majority of children in the world’s wealthiest countries accessing over a decade of compulsory schooling, many children cannot take full advantage of what schools have to offer.For a start, too many children are out of school. Moreover, the intergenerational transmission of education outcomes is generally strong, with global evidence suggesting it affects around 2 in 5 children on average (closer to 3 in 5 in Latin America), and inequality in educational outcomes are still high, and strongly linked to socio-economic backgrounds worldwide.These failings matter. Every under-educated child represents lost personal opportunities, underutilised economic and social potential, and a litany of wasted public resources and future social costs.Yet still, today, education policies take priority in expenditure during childhood, and in advanced welfare states and beyond, the bulk of public investment during childhood is channelled through the compulsory school system. Across the OECD for instance, of the total average public expenditure on each child – about USD 180,000 – over half is allocated to compulsory education.A volunteer teacher reads a book to children in a day-care centre in her home in the squatter community of BASECO in Manila.This ‘education’ spending does not include other education-focused spending in broader social protection systems, including, for example, early childhood education and care, conditional cash transfers and job training for youth. This leads inevitably to the question of whether existing, and relatively expensive, education systems are worth the cost… or, more appropriately, where do we target reforms.Are you tempted to say: ‘it could be worse if less was spent’? Well the answer could be yes, but in the complex realm of how governments try to achieve their educational goals, if we focus exclusively on ‘how much’ is spent we don’t do justice to the sum of expert knowledge on what drives better educational outcomes.The discussion is more likely to be productive if focused on the ‘when’ and ‘how’ of government spending across the board, because this actually aligns with some key findings from child and education policy evaluations, such as:Optimal investment in children’s education and development suggests that public spending should decline as children age, whereas in most advanced countries spending peaks at 13 or 14 years of age.Evidence on children’s brain development, in particular the development of grey matter in early- and mid-childhood and on the impact of stress on adolescent brain development and behaviours, highlights critical times in the life course for targeted interventions (Even so, accessible and affordable preschool and out-of-school facilities are often lacking).Home environment factors (e.g. deprivation and parenting practices) drive a significant proportion of the variation in educational achievement in school (net of factors such as teacher qualification, peer effects, and school management factors), in particular via the preschool early years, yet all of these policy areas combined receive less public investment than education.Not only could education systems be better integrated across the life course, but there are many social policies worthy of greater public investment that can support child education, particularly when they are well-integrated. The opportunity to innovate not just within, but beyond the school walls, is real, and is underway across the developed world.Educational researchers may wish to follow health scientists once again, and explore the topic of social determinants of education as a complementary path toward meeting the ambitions of the school system. For countries wishing to improve social and economic progress, and presently banking on the school system, an integrated life course approach to child policy and education is not only desirable, but necessary.But necessary or not, changing child investment strategies for the benefit of educational outcomes is not a simple task, and challenges to policy reform lie ahead. For instance, education, as a public service, has a budget with a lot of fixed capital investment, and employees whose livelihoods depend on it. Investment is locked in school buildings, and the professionals that reside within, and so will not be easily shifted even within the education sector, let alone across other social sector budgets, in order to achieve broader social outcomes.In practice, integrating child policies has unique challenges due to often complex governance arrangements, fragmented tax systems and entrenched methods and routines embedded in the culture of delivery. Fortunately for advocates of improving educational outcomes, policies exist that can bridge complex administration systems to help families and societies get more from their school systems and broader social systems.Perhaps the main message here is that when governments want to improve educational and other outcomes for children the first step is not only to spend more but to spend smarter – an implicit but clear conclusion from a recent UNICEF report on education investment and equity. Why fill a leaky bucket?Improving education and learning is not a challenge for schools alone. It should benefit from complementarities across the social policy system that strengthen the home-school partnership, to ensure that all public spending is life-course sensitive, and that good investments on school children follow good preschool investments for the benefit of the child, the school, and society.Dominic Richardson is Senior Education Specialist with UNICEF Innocenti. He previously worked in the Social Policy Division of OECD where he specialized in the evaluation of child and family policies.The Office of Research – Innocenti is UNICEF’s dedicated research centre undertaking research on emerging and current priorities to shape policy and practice for children. Subscribe to UNICEF Innocenti emails here. Follow UNICEF Innocenti on Twitter here. Access the complete Innocenti research catalogue: unicef-irc.org/publications 

Journal articles

Improving school systems from beyond school walls
Journal Article

Impact of social protection on gender equality in low- and middle-income countries: A systematic review of reviews

Improving school systems from beyond school walls
Journal Article

Teacher Training and Textbook Distribution Improve Early Grade Reading: Evidence from Papua and West Papua.

Improving school systems from beyond school walls
Journal Article

Protocol: Impact of social protection on gender equality in low‐ and middle‐income countries: A systematic review of reviews

Events

Shortfalls in Social Spending in Low- and Middle-Income Countries
Event

Shortfalls in Social Spending in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

Join researchers, experts, educators, and policymakers for a one-hour virtual policy panel discussion on Shortfalls in Social Spending Worldwide. A new report from UNICEF, ‘Shortfalls in Social Spending in Low- and Middle-Income Countries. COVID-19 and Shrinking Finance for Social Spending’ argues that, in order to meet the rights of all to basic social services, greater mobilisation of both domestic and international resources will be needed to boost social spending in the wake of COVID-19. It calculates that low-and middle-income countries will need to spend an additional 0.9% of GDP on education; 4.7% of GDP on health; and 0.6% of GDP on social protection. Failure to meet these targets is currently resulting in annual shortfalls of, on average, $281 per child (education); $513 per capita (health); $66 per capita (social assistance). However, the fiscal space to achieve adequate spending on social services remains constrained in many countries. Join us as our experts discuss how to approach this challenge, bolster finance for the SDGs and address widening inequalities post COVID-19.
International Conference on Universal Child Grants
Event

International Conference on Universal Child Grants

6-8 February 2019 - This conference, convened by UNICEF, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), brings together national governments and policy practitioners, researchers and the international community to explore the arguments and the evidence emerging from the implementation of alternative cash transfer schemes and their implications for UCGs. 

Podcasts

International Conference on Universal Child Grants
Podcast

Supporting Families and Children Beyond COVID-19: Social protection in SE Europe and Central Asia

International Conference on Universal Child Grants
Podcast

A Conversation with our Education Team