What is UNICEF’s Child Friendly Cities Initiative?
CFCI is UNICEF’s road map for building safe, equitable, just, inclusive and child-responsive cities and communities around the world. The initiative uses the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as a framework to help local governments prioritize the needs of children and young people and elevate the voices of youth in local governance and decision-making.
The ways the initiative is implemented on the ground vary based on each country’s child rights situation and institutional context.
What is the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)?
CFCI is rooted in the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The CRC is the most widely supported and comprehensive international human rights treaty. It outlines the full range of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights to which every human is entitled and recognizes the essential role and importance of parents and families.
The Convention refers to the family as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of its members, particularly children. Under the Convention, governments are obliged to respect parents' primary responsibility for providing care and guidance for their children.
Even though the United States is the only country in the world not to ratify the Convention, it remains a powerful tool not only for advocacy and programming, but also for guiding our everyday behavior with children. This treaty provides a framework to help governments ensure that children and families have certain rights and protections: children should be free from discrimination; government policies should be based on the best interest of teh child; children should survive and develop to their full potential; and children's views and perspectives are important.
Child Friendly Cities Initiative efforts from around the world over the past 25 years have demonstrated that weaving children’s rights into systems, structures and practice has the potential to bring about fundamental, systemic change in real and tangible ways.
What is a Child Rights-Based Approach?
A child rights-based approach is a framework that can be used by planners, decision-makers and front-line professionals working for children and young people. It can be used when designing, delivering, monitoring and evaluating local services for children. The approach brings together the vision of childhood set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the core tenets of a human rights-based approach.
A child rights-based approach empowers children to be active citizens, capable of bringing about lasting and positive change for themselves, their communities and the environment. Applying a child rights-based approach is the most sustainable way to identify and implement long-term solutions with and for children. Interventions benefit children most when children are actively involved in assessing needs, devising solutions, shaping strategies and carrying them out.
In particular, a child rights-based approach is guided by the following overarching CRC principles:
- Non-discrimination: Every child and young person should be treated fairly and protected from discrimination, whatever their age, gender, ethnicity, religion, language, family background or any other status. Having access to equal opportunities and best possible outcomes doesn’t mean being treated identically; some children and young people need more support than others to overcome barriers and difficulties.
- Best interests of the child: The best interests of the child must be a top priority in all decisions and actions that affect children and young people. Decisions can relate to individual children, for example about adoption, or groups of children and young people, for instance when designing play spaces. In all cases, children and young people should be involved in deciding what is best for them.
- Life, survival and development: Every child has a right to life and each child and young person should enjoy the same opportunities to be safe, healthy, grow and develop. From birth to adulthood, children and young people develop in many different ways – physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually and educationally – and different professionals should work together to help make this happen.
- Respect for the view of the child: All children and young people have the right to have a say in matters that affect them and to have their views taken seriously. In order to participate meaningfully in the lives of their family, community and the wider society, children and young people need support and opportunities for involvement. They need information, a space to express their views and feelings, and opportunities to ask questions.
Children also have the right to be directed and guided in the exercise of their rights by caregivers, parents and community members, in line with children’s evolving capacities.
What is a Child Friendly City?
UNICEF defines a child-friendly city as one that is committed to adopting a child rights-based approach to local governance. A child-friendly city ensures that the voices, needs and priorities of children are an integral part of public policies, programs and decisions. Thus, a “child-friendly city” is a city that is fit for all.
To receive official recognition by UNICEF as a Child Friendly City in the United States, a city or system of local governance must enter into a partnership with UNICEF USA by signing a Memorandum of Understanding. The city must undergo the CFCI Framework for Action as outlined by UNICEF USA and demonstrate that it has met UNICEF’s global minimum criteria:
Demonstrated results for children within the scope of several CFCI goal areas to ensure a comprehensive child rights-based approach
- Meaningful and inclusive child participation, to be measured through a UNICEF USA rubric for measuring child participation
- Demonstrated dedication to eliminating discrimination against children and young people in policies and actions by the local government, including in the CFCI
Cities will demonstrate realization of this criteria through evaluation rubrics developed by UNICEF USA to measure outcomes for children, child participation and anti-discrimination efforts.
How is the CFCI being implemented in the United States?
On August 12, 2020, International Youth Day, an annual observance to celebrate young people's voices, actions and meaningful, equitable engagement, UNICEF USA announced the launch of the Child Friendly Cities Initiative in the United States. UNICEF USA is partnering with Decatur, GA; Houston, TX; Johnson City, TN; Minneapolis, MN, Prince George's County, MD; and San Francisco, CA as the first cohort of cities and the first county in the United States to implement an ambitious two-year process toward recognization as a UNICEF Child Friend City or County.
While CFCI is new to the United States as a formal model supported by UNICEF, UNICEF USA builds upon 20+ years of global CFCI experience. Established by UNICEF in 1996, CFCI has been adopted in 3,000+ municipalities across 57 countries, impacting an estimated 30 million children and young people.
Why CFCI in the United States?
- The United States is one of the world’s wealthiest nations. According to research conducted by Brandeis University, however, nearly 10 million U.S. children live in low-opportunity neighborhoods with limited access to good schools, parks and healthy food.[i]
- Drastic racial divides exist in almost every major city in the United States, and systemic racism is one of the leading factors for poor outcomes on children’s health and well-being. Additionally, the COVID-19 public health emergency further exacerbates these already existing inequities.
- Research shows that involving children and young people in local decision-making processes not only increases their commitment to civic participation, but also helps push cities to create greener, healthier living spaces for all.[ii]
- Through a nationally representative survey of children, ages 8-17, conducted online by The Harris Poll, most children (70%) want to be included in the political process but only one-third of them currently feel included.[iii]
- Drawing on the strengths of existing local efforts across the country to holistically improve child well-being, CFCI will provide local governments with a unique, tested opportunity to positively move the needle for America’s children, addressing systemic inequities and amplifying youth voices.
How does CFCI help cities address the secondary impact of COVID-19 on children in the U.S.?
In the heat of rapid response to COVID-19, it has become clear that many cities do not have emergency plans in place that address the needs of children and families — especially the most vulnerable. The Child Friendly Cities Initiative offers cities a unifying, holistic framework to respond, recover and reimagine cities that are fit for every child. A select cohort of pilot cities will work with UNICEF USA and each other to demonstrate the impact of responding to emergencies from a child rights-based approach. In doing so, as part of a larger community-wide child rights strategy, Decatur, GA; Houston, TX; Johnson City, TN; Minneapolis, MN, Prince George's County, MD and San Francisco, CA will work across sectors and with youth to develop and execute a one-year CFCI local action plan centered around emergency response, recovery and future preparedness.
How does CFCI help address issues of social justice and equity?
One of the five CFCI goals around which Child Friendly Cities organize their work is safety and inclusion. This is to ensure that “every child and young person is valued, respected and treated fairly within their communities and by local authorities.” Equity and non-discrimination should be included not only in CFCI planning, but also in assessing whether and how existing structures related to every CFCI goal take into account and have a positive or negative impact on different groups of children.
This initiative will draw on the strengths of existing local efforts to address the impact of COVID-19 and systemic racism on children. It will empower cities to eliminate all forms of discrimination against children and young people and elevate their voices in local governance and decision-making throughout the CFCI process and from a child rights approach.
CFCI provides meaningful opportunities for cities to collaborate with child and youth-led social justice initiatives and to amplify existing efforts in realizing children’s rights, especially for children and young people of color and other historically marginalized groups.
It will require young people to be at the table with decision makers to address matters that affect their rights and to work to infuse child rights and equity across policies and programs.
Child Friendly Cities are safe, equitable, just and inclusive cities fit for all.
What is the CFCI Framework for Action?
The framework consists of two pillars: goals and results to be achieved and strategies for achieving these goals and results.
In the United States, local governments and their partners identify objectives under the umbrella of the following five goal areas from the CFCI Framework for Action, striving to protect the right of every child and young person, from 0-18 years old, to a safe, healthy and happy childhood.:
- Safety and Inclusion: Every child and young person is valued, respected and treated fairly within their communities and by local authorities.
- Children’s Participation: Every child and young person has their voice, needs and priorities heard and taken into account in public laws, policies, budgets, programs and decisions that affect them.
- Equitable Social Services: Every child and young person has access to quality essential social services.
- Safe Living Environments: Every child and young person lives in a safe, secure and clean environment.
- Play and Leisure: Every child and young person has opportunities to enjoy family life, play and leisure.
The UNICEF USA CFCI rests on two pillars of strategies to achieve goals and results for children: Community Building and Child-Friendly Governance.
- Sustainable mechanisms for meaningful and inclusive child and youth participation
- Awareness and capacity development on child rights
- Child/youth projects, campaigns and civic actions
- Children’s Coordinating Unit (e.g. Children’s Cabinet)
- Children’s advocate/ombudsman
- Child-responsive budgeting
- Child-responsive policy-making
- Child-responsive urban planning
- Child-responsive disaster emergency preparedness and response
For concrete examples of how cities have applied the CFCI Framework around the world, go to https://childfriendlycities.org/2019-summit/vote/.
What are the steps for UNICEF Child Friendly City Recognition in the U.S.?
Developing a CFCI under the UNICEF banner requires establishing a partnership with UNICEF USA to pilot the CFCI Framework for Action.
The exact process of building a Child Friendly City will depend on the local context and will be influenced by factors such as the political environment, population size and available resources. Key steps include:
- Conducting a local situation analysis of child well-being, including children and young people in the process
- Based on the findings of the situation analysis, working across generations to develop a local action plan for children
- Supporting youth and community-led proejcts
- Implementing the plan with relevant local stakeholders, including children and young people themselves
- Monitoring and evaluating outcomes for children and young people and adjusting the plan as necessary
After a city has conducted a situational analysis, developed a local action plan and supported a youth-led community engagement project, they can apply to become a Child Friendly City Candidate. After the action plan has been implemented and its accomplishments evaluated, the Child Friendly City Candidate can apply to be officially recognized as a UNICEF Child Friendly City for a set period of time.
UNICEF also offers a free self-led course describing the core components and key steps to be taken for a city/community to be recognized as child-friendly by UNICEF here via Agora, UNICEF's global hub for learning.
How will UNICEF USA support CFCI pilot cities?
UNICEF USA offers tools, technical guidance and volunteer power to support its CFCI pilot cities and county, including children and young people themselves. Support includes:
- UNICEF’s CFCI toolkit and resources
- Technical expertise and assistance
- Convening power
- A diverse network of dedicated volunteers through UNICEF UNITE
- Global and national networking opportunities with other cities and experts
- The equity of a global brand, visibility for efforts and recognition if targets are achieved
How can I get involved if my city is part of a pilot?
If you are from Decatur, GA, Houston, TX; Johnson City, TN; Minneapolis, MN; Prince George's County, MD or San Francisco, CA, we ask you to join us in telling your Mayor or County Executive why CFCI is important to you! Go to act.unicefusa.org/CFCI to thank your Mayor or County Executive and tell them why it is important to you that your community become a UNICEF Child Friendly City or County!
UNICEF USA’s CFCI offers an exciting opportunity for local stakeholders to work together to take a whole-community approach to improving outcomes for children. Are you a local business owner? A high school student? See below for roles you can play in supporting the initiative in your city:
- The local government is responsible for facilitating collaboration across sectors by forming a Taskforce, which oversees the implementation of CFCI. Offering participatory processes for community members supports local democracy, while building pride and a feeling of ownership among a city’s constituents.
- Children, young people, parents and service providers can participate in or help lead community assessments, contribute to community-led engagement projects and support activities outlined as part of a CFCI’s Local Action Plan. By getting involved in these opportunities, children and families can help ensure their needs are reflected in local policies, budgets and services.
- Non-profit organizations or opinion leaders who advocate for children’s rights and well-being can work together with local authorities and help offer local service opportunities for volunteers.
- Local businesses play a critical role in helping to build strong communities, strengthen local development and governance processes and gain recognition for their work.
If you are interested in getting involved with CFCI as a volunteer, we encourage you to join UNICEF UNITE, UNICEF USA’s nationwide volunteer network that advocates, fundraises, raises awareness and builds community here in the United States on behalf of the world’s children. When your city launches a CFCI activation, you’ll be the first to know once you sign up for UNITE. If you or your child is a high school or college student, check out our UNICEF Clubs program, and consider starting a Club at your school if one doesn’t already exist. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Additionally, UNICEF USA is building a national CFCI Learning Community of city officials, subject matter experts and advocates coast-to-coast to exchange resources and learning opportunities on how to put children first in local governance and decision making. To get involved, request to join our CFCI Facebook Group at www.facebook.com/groups/unicefusaCFCI (please mention this FAQ document when you do), ask us for details about joining our Slack channel or send the Advocacy team an email at email@example.com).
As a city leader or subject-matter expert, how can I get involved if my city is not part of a pilot?
In addition to engaging our select CFCI pilot cities and county, UNICEF USA is building a national CFCI Learning Community of city officials, subject matter experts and advocates coast-to-coast to exchange resources and learning opportunities on how to put children first in local governance and decision making. To get involved, request to join our CFCI Facebook Group at www.facebook.com/groups/unicefusaCFCI (please mention this FAQ document when you do), ask us for details about joining our Slack channel or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re interested in getting involved with CFCI as a volunteer in your community, we encourage you to join UNICEF UNITE, UNICEF USA’s nationwide volunteer network that advocates, fundraises, raises awareness and builds community here in the United States on behalf of the world’s children.
Even if your city isn’t taking part in a CFCI pilot, you can still take action to make your city more child friendly. One of the best ways is to go to act.unicefusa.org/childhood to take our advocacy action and urge your mayor to keep children top of mind in every policy and funding decision and to find ways to meaningfully engage children and youth in those decisions.
My city is not part of a CFCI pilot; how can I get involved?
Even if your city isn’t taking part in a CFCI pilot, you can still take action to make your city more child-friendly. One of the best ways is to go to act.unicefusa.org/childhood to take our advocacy action and urge your mayor to keep children top of mind in every policy and funding decision and to find ways to meaningfully engage children and youth in those decisions. You can also educate yourself and your community about ways to implement a child-rights approach locally by reviewing UNICEF guidance here.
Additionally, if you are interested in promoting child-friendly principles in your local community as a UNICEF USA volunteer and connecting with other UNICEF advocates, we encourage you to join UNICEF UNITE, UNICEF USA’s nationwide volunteer network that advocates, fundraises, raises awareness and builds community here in the United States on behalf of the world’s children.
If you or your child is a high school or college student, check out our UNICEF Clubs program, the youth-led arm of UNICEF UNITE, and consider starting a Club at your school if one doesn’t already exist. Email email@example.com with any questions.
[i] Pandey, Erica. “America's hardest places to grow up.” Axios.https://www.axios.com/neighborhood-inequality-american-children-549d7aba-234d-4fd9-bc18-b5478c51473d.html (accessed July 3, 2020)
[ii] Derr, Victoria and Ildikó G. Kovács. “How participatory processes impact children and contribute to planning: a case study of neighborhood design from Boulder, Colorado, USA” https://rsa.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17549175.2015.1111925#.W_RsIXpKiAw (accessed July 3 2020)