Alberto Minujin, Director of Equity for Children and Co-Editor of Global Child Poverty and Well-Being: Measurements, Concepts, Policy and Action launched the April 16 event.
He described the origins of the book as a reaction to the marginalization of child poverty within the development discourse and the movement to collect data that describes the multiple dimensions of child poverty. The book collects data driven-research and promotes a holistic approach to child poverty that combines both local actions and broad policies. It emphasizes the participatory approach and includes reflections of children themselves on their experiences of poverty.
To herald the book’s publication, a panel discussion took place with experts in the field of child poverty. Sólrún Engilbertsdóttir, Policy Analyst, Division of Policy and Strategy, UNICEF, provided a brief history of the process of the UNICEF’s in-depth study: the Global Study on Child Poverty and Disparities, which was launched in 2007 and conducted in 54 countries on six continents. This study has resulted in many national governments adapting multi-dimensional indicators of child poverty and creating plans of action around child poverty. Engilbersdóttir noted the need for more research on the empowerment and emotional well being of children.
Kristen Lewis, Co-Director of Measure of America, Social Science Research Project, spoke next. Measure of America, a project of the Social Science Research Council, provides easy-to-use yet methodologically sound tools for understanding the distribution of well-being and opportunity in America and stimulating fact-based dialogue about issues we all care about: health, education, and living standards. Lewis described the high incidence of child poverty within the U.S., noting that one in five children live in poor households. She explained Measure of America’s Tot Index, which is a part of the American Human Development Project and creates indicators that describe early childhood in the following key categories: Health, Education, Income, Protection/Prevention of Harm and Attachment. This project reveals how poorly the U.S. performs in early childhood compared with other wealthy nations. She said that the early childhood outcomes are often masked by income poverty indicators and emphasized the link between deep and persistent poverty in the preschool years and several negative impacts including higher rates of incarceration and poverty in adulthood.
Richard R. Buery, Jr., President and CEO of the Children’s Aid Society, provided a perspective of child poverty in New York City, where one in three children live in poverty. He noted that African-American and Hispanic children are 10 times more likely than white children to experience poverty and deprivation. He also noted that within these communities there is often a deep sense of mistrust of government officials and services. Buery described the complexity of poverty as a system of challenges including hunger, inadequate housing, lack of role models and exposure to violence and abuse that deny children the chance to develop to their fullest potential. He discussed some of the challenges that Children’s Aid Society faces trying to alleviate child poverty, including donor preferences for short-term interventions about problems requiring long-term engagement. Additionally, the system addressing families in poverty is made up of fragmented bureaucracies that too often remain disconnected from each other.
Sanjay Reddy, Professor of Economics at The New School, highlighted the work of Gordon and Pemberton in the book, in which they call for a process of periodic audits that would engage the public in understanding the most successful interventions in child poverty. He suggested that there should be an institutionalized system to diagnose how policies address child poverty.
Finally, Christian Salazar, Deputy Director of UNICEF’s Program Division commented that the book and its multi-dimensional approach to child poverty is very well-timed, due to the approaching conclusion of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015. He expressed hope that this approach can provide a simple and powerful indicator to complement the measure of income poverty. He also noted a need to better collect information about children living on the street and not in households, or who are working away from their families and therefore the most vulnerable to abuse and neglect. He noted the importance of local action, noting that most policy recommendations promoted in the book are made at the national level while change frequently occurs at the local level.
Following the panelists’ presentations, an audience discussion ensued with questions about how data collected from interviews with children is used. Solgrun Engilbertdottir explained that the voices of children are a recent addition to this research, and that in the past children’s lives were viewed as an investment in the future but not considering their actual lived experiences and contributions. Other questions addressed child disability to which Sanjay Reddy noted that current child poverty measures do not really address the intersection or correlations between multiple deprivations, nor the additional needs that these combinations create. Several audience members asked about the role of the U.S. in the global community as related to childcare and protection. Christian Salazar noted that the influence of the U.S. has shifted due, in part, to the change in the traditional relationship between donor countries and poor countries. Many middle-income countries have become leaders in early childhood care and education, and there is an increasingly horizontal exchange of knowledge about children.
Final questions about the role of personal stories in speaking about child poverty were addressed by Alberto Minujin, who emphasized that children’s voices are essential in creating the solutions to this very complex problem. Richard Buery agreed and echoed that personal stories humanize child poverty in a way that statistics do not.
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