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UNICEF Canada’s policy advocacy 

UNICEF Canada works apolitically, with policymakers, a range of organizations and young people to promote public policy to advance children’s rights and well-being. 

Why are other countries faring better than Canada?

Public policy.

Families and communities take care of children, and children shape their own lives. But how they do that is heavily influenced by the society around them. Countries that achieve great outcomes for kids in fundamental areas like child survival, protection, development and happiness don’t have different kinds of parents and children. They have better public policies.

Canada’s children and youth are falling behind their peers in other affluent nations. More than a decade of UNICEF Report Cards have measured this, and it is clear. Canada’s kids are better educated but less healthy, experience more violence and are more unequal than their peers in many countries with similar economic resources. And progress is stalling. We are calling on Canadians to relentlessly champion Canada’s better possibilities.

Canada’s Ranking

2007 – 12

2010 – 10

2013 – 17

2016 – 26

2017 – 25

If we don't like our ranking internationally, we may like it better by 2030.

Canada can move from a middle ranking to join peer countries at the top of the UNICEF Index of Child and Youth Well-being. When we do, it will be because we have less childhood poverty, food insecurity, obesity and bullying; and fewer infant deaths, child homicides and suicides. It will be because children have more secure and healthy relationships in welcoming communities, access to quality services and a stronger voice in decisions affecting them. It will be because we spread more fairness in opportunity, and fewer children fall behind. When we do this by 2030, we will achieve many of the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals that Canada has adopted.  And this generation of children will be the last to be stuck in the middle.

What policies do we need to prioritize?

There are lots of solutions, from better breastfeeding support to more free play. But four main policy drivers can really move the needle for children and youth. These are already in gear but we need to step on the pedal:

  1. Reduce inequality
  2. Invest earlier in children’s lives
  3. Pursue Reconciliation
  4. Put children and youth first in decision-making

Data is not a four-letter word

With more than 70 years of working with data to advance child and youth well-being, UNICEF knows that research and data aren’t always the determining factors in policy decisions. But UNICEF’s data and policy analysis has made a difference. 

The Canadian Index of Child and Youth Well-being, to be launched in 2018, is a tool to help decision-makers focus efforts where children are lagging farthest behind and align to make measurable progress. Data is just a starting point for dialogue, research and action. 

Reduce inequality

Canada’s wealth has been rising steadily for decades, but our progress for children relative to peer nations has not. So what really explains the differences in international rankings of child and youth well-being? Countries that rank high on income equality tend to top the charts. They have less child poverty, less violence and better mental and physical health. They have smaller gaps between their children – they distribute fairness. Canada is one of a handful of rich countries where income inequality has increased markedly in recent years. Limiting income inequality is key to doing better for all children, not just those falling farthest behind. Continuing to build on the Canada Child Benefit to reduce child poverty by 50% by 2020, and by 60% by 2030 in line with what the best-performing countries do, would make a big difference toward better child and youth well-being. 

Invest earlier in children’s lives

Family income is important to provide children with what they need to reach their full potentials. But high-quality, universal public services are critical. Because inequalities in child and youth well-being show up in the first few years of life, bending the cost curve to invest in early child development is a better investment than remediating the costs of early disadvantage. All levels of government are building a national early-years framework, but children will be best served by universal, quality programs for early childhood education and care that meet the 19 Early Childhood Education Report benchmarks, and invest at least the minimum international benchmark of 1% of GDP (an increase from 0.3%) or 6% of the annual budget in early child learning and care. 

Pursue Reconciliation 

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its Calls to Action, including a call to achieve parity in well-being outcomes for First Nations, Inuit and Métis children. Equitable funding for culturally-based services that is measured in equitable outcomes in education, health and child welfare will help to close the gaps in child and youth rights and well-being.

Put children first in decision-making

Children are a large population whose interests are often overlooked in decision-making, because they lack influence and because it’s often assumed that they won’t be affected. But most decisions have impacts on kids. With one chance at a childhood, they can be disproportionately affected by deprivation or adverse conditions. Decisions are better when the impacts on children are specifically considered and their interests are given priority. All levels of government should use Child Rights Impact Assessment in decision-making.

Two possible futures

UNICEF Canada’s Foresight Project is drawing on insights from kids and adults across the country and beyond to think about what being a kid might be like in Canada in 2030. Generation 2030 has identified two very different possible futures: one where children are increasingly confined in their choices and opportunities, and one where they are increasingly empowered to dream and participate in society. One where Canada remains stuck in the middle, and one where we join the best performing countries to achieve great outcomes for and with young people. Public policies may contribute to one or the other – what we do today will shape the future. Contact One Youth to participate in Generation 2030.

More about UNICEF Canada’s policy

UNICEF is mandated by the United Nations General Assembly to advance the human rights of children as enduring ethical principles and standards, and ensure a “first call for children” in their societies. UNICEF Canada delivers UNICEF’s mission for children in Canada and worldwide by collaborating with a broad and diverse range of Canadians, including children and youth, and taking a comprehensive view of children’s lives. The global scale of UNICEF’s work provides a unique context for learning from experience; producing evidence and data as a public good; shifting public attitudes; and increasing the priority afforded children in policy, resource allocation and other actions that influence their well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions and Answers about UNICEF Canada's Mandate in Canada

Convention on the Rights of the Child

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the framework to advance the well-being of children and youth because it provides a comprehensive view of the interdependent conditions the need, it makes clear what children are entitled to, it distinguishes the roles and responsibilities of different actors and it articulates the principles that should guide all actions for children. Using the Convention to develop policies, laws, programs, services, administrative procedures and other decisions and actions leads to better outcomes for children.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child: in child friendly language

WHO/UNICEF Baby-Friendly Initiative

UNICEF facilitates the international Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative to support breastfeeding in Canada and worldwide.

UNICEF Child Friendly Cities

More than half of Quebec’s children live in a Child Friendly City – contact us to see how your community can participate!

Child Rights Impact Assessment

Connect to the Community of Practice for Child Rights Impact Assessment to learn more and find helpful resources.

Recent policy briefs

  1. Acting In The Best Interest Of The Child When Families Separate And Divorce
  2. UNICEF Canada Brief In Response To Bill S-228: The Child Health Protection Act
  3. Without denial, delay, or disruption: Ensuring First nations children's access to equitable services through Jordan's Principle
  4.  Policy Brief: Ontario Bill 57: Restoring Trust, Transparency and Accountability Act, 2018
  5. Children and youth have a right to an advocate – they also desperately need one

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