What a Child Really Needs
Since 1980, UNICEF has published annual reports on, “State of the World’s Children”. Areas of focus for these reports cover issues like fairness, imagining the future, poverty, disabilities and adolescence. In addition to the annual reports, UNICEF publishes report cards.
The one that measured childhood happiness: Report Card #11, “Child Well-Being in Rich Countries”, gave me reason to pause. As I read through the analysis on the overall condition of children worldwide, several of the statistics surprised me, especially where the United States ranked.
Categories in the report covered:
Health and Safety
Behaviors and Risk
Housing and Environment
Scandinavian countries take the top five spots in the overall rankings. The Netherlands is #1. The United States is #26 in between Greece and Lithuania. The bottom four countries are the poorest in the rankings except for the U.S. which is one of the richest. Romania is last at #29. In other areas of measurement, such as the Child Poverty Gap I felt embarrassed to see that the United States is listed at the bottom.
The Child Deprivation Index in this report card showed the percentage of children in each nation who lack two or more of the following 14 items:
- Three meals a day
- At least one meal a day with meat, chicken or fish (or vegetarian equivalent)
- Fresh fruit and vegetables every day
- Books suitable for the child’s age and knowledge level (not including schoolbooks)
- Outdoor leisure equipment (bicycle, roller-skates, etc.)
- Regular leisure activities (swimming, playing an instrument, participating in youth organizations, etc.)
- Indoor games (at least one per child, including educational baby toys, building blocks, board games, computer games, etc.)
- Money to participate in school trips and events
- A quiet place with enough room and light to do homework
- An Internet connection
- Some new clothes (i.e. not all second-hand)
- Two pairs of properly fitting shoes
- The opportunity, from time to time, to invite friends home to play and eat
- The opportunity to celebrate special occasions such as birthdays, name days, religious events, etc.
As I read through the above list, I wondered how many children in rural areas or the inner cities of America could go through the list and check off even half of the entries.
Our country, the richest in the world, should be at the top of all the rankings. The only way we can get there, is to participate in our democracy. We can help by getting involved in our communities to find ways to support children. If we happen to live in an area of great wealth, where the children in our neighborhoods could check off every one of those fourteen items in the above list, then we are in a position to reach out to communities beyond our comfort zone, and contribute to programs that are having success in addressing child well-being in America.
Here are a few well-managed and highly rated organizations that are doing great work for children in America:
Children’s Defense Fund: How you can help the most vulnerable of America’s children.
Boys & Girls Clubs of America: How you can help children develop leadership skills and social connections in their communities.
Shoes That Fit: How you can help American children have the shoes they need.
Feeding America: How you can help America’s rural children
The Harlem Children’s Zone: How you can help America’s urban children