Book published by the OECD, 2009. Available in the ESPC library as book or PDF.

Childcare workers and policymakers interested in child welfare should take a look at Doing Better for Children. This in-depth report examines the efforts OECD member countries are making to enhance the well-being of their children. The authors ask what government programs for children are achieving and investigate whether money is being spent wisely. Why should we care about these issues? Because the health of our economy and society hinges on the well-being of today’s children.
The scope of this book includes data on how 28 member countries, including Canada, distribute government social spending across the life cycle of a child. It is very helpful to look at Canada’s data in this context. The report also lets us look at how we measure up against our peer countries in relation to the proportion of resources they allocate to child well-being.

Doing Better for Children compares data across six areas:

  • Material Well-being
  • Housing and Environment
  • Education
  • Health and Safety
  • Risk Behaviours
  • Quality of School Life

Other important issues are also discussed. It turns out that more money is spent on the last third of childhood – the “facebook years” – than the first third – the “Dora the Explorer years”. By contrast, the authors conclude that spending on the first third of childhood is more effective. Following from this, policies regarding services for infants and very young children (under-3s) are compared across countries.

Another interesting theme is intergenerational inequality. Do children become their parents? Is social mobility an option for children today? It turns out that socioeconomic class plays a major role in determining social mobility.

Controversial conclusions are made with regards to family environment. The authors discuss whether family make-up has an impact on child well-being, and they state that staying together for the kids doesn’t necessarily create a better home environment than a single-parent family.

The authors report some difficulty collecting data due to a general lack of statistic-keeping for this age group. Despite this, they have compiled insightful data into easy-to-read tables and graphs.

Several general policy recommendations are made. They include the following:

  • Governments should invest more in early childhood than in later adolescence
  • Early investment in disadvantaged children needs follow-up throughout their childhood
  • Intergenerational inequality will most likely be broken by early investment
  • Policies for child well-being need to address all the dimensions of their lives
  • Politicians and policymakers need targets and timelines if goals related to child well-being are to be met.
  • Comprehensive statistics on children need to be gathered regularly, both to monitor child well-being and to inform policy. At present, children are “statistically invisible” in many countries.
  • Governments must be vigilant in tracking the effectiveness of programs and ensuring that funding is properly allocated.

A few specific and thought-provoking policy suggestions are made: Parental smoking should be reduced, especially during pregnancy. Educational funding should be reallocated towards disadvantaged children. Less money should be spent on post-natal hospital stays, older children, and single parents. Whether you agree with these statements or not, the report is worth a read.
There’s nothing like some OECD policy recommendations for good conversation starter!

Review by Jennifer Hoyer  

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