UNICEF/UN075716/Jacome
UNICEF/UN075716/Jacome

What is the UNICEF Child Friendly Cities Initiative (CFCI)?

What is the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)?

What is a child rights approach?

What is a Child Friendly City?

How is the CFCI being implemented in the United States?

Why is CFCI in the United States?

How does CFCI help cities address the secondary impact of COVID-19 on children in the United States?

How does CFCI help address issues of social justice and equity?

What is the CFCI framework for action?

What are the steps for UNICEF Child Friendly City recognition in the United States?

How will UNICEF USA support CFCI pilot cities?

How can I get involved if my city is part of a pilot?

As a city leader or subject-matter expert, how can I get involved if my city is not part of a pilot?

My city is not part of a CFCI pilot. How can I get involved?


What is the UNICEF Child Friendly Cities Initiative (CFCI)?

The Child Friendly Cities Initiative 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 elevate the voices of youth in local governance and decision making.

Implementation varies based on each country’s child rights situation and local context. Learn more on UNICEF USA's Child Friendly Cities Initiative web page. 

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What is the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)?

CFCI is rooted in the 1989 UN 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, the Convention 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 the 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.

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What is a child rights approach?

A child rights approach is a framework that can be used by planners, decision makers and frontline professionals working with 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 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 approach is one of the most sustainable ways to identify and implement long-term solutions with and for children. Interventions benefit children most when children are actively involved in assessing needs, shaping strategies and executing solutions.

A child rights approach is guided by the following overarching CRC principles:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Life, survival and development: Every child has a right to life and each child and young person should enjoy the same opportunities to safety, health, growth and development. From birth to adulthood, children and young people develop in many different ways — physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually and intellectually — and different professionals should work together to help make this happen.

  4. 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.

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What is a Child Friendly City?

UNICEF defines a child-friendly city as one that is committed to adopting a child rights 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 or county must undergo the CFCI Framework for Action as outlined by UNICEF USA and demonstrate that it has met UNICEF’s global minimum criteria. That means the city or county has:

  • 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

  • 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.

Learn more on UNICEF USA's Child Friendly Cities Initiative web page. 

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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 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 over 20 years of global CFCI experience. Established by UNICEF in 1996, CFCI has been adopted in more than 3,000 municipalities across 57 countries, impacting an estimated 30 million children and young people.

Learn more on UNICEF USA's Child Friendly Cities Initiative web page. 

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Why is 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 in 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 to 17 conducted online by The Harris Poll, 70 percent of children 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.

Learn more on UNICEF USA's Child Friendly Cities Initiative web page. 

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How does CFCI help cities address the secondary impact of COVID-19 on children in the United States?

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, Texas; Johnson City, Tenn.; Minneapolis, Minn., Prince George's County, Md. and San Francisco, Calif. 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.

Learn more on UNICEF USA's Child Friendly Cities Initiative web page. 

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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. 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.

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 and challenge 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. 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.

Learn more on UNICEF USA's Child Friendly Cities Initiative web page. 

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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.

Inspired by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UNICEF USA CFCI Framework for Action provides the following goals and strategies to protect the safety, health and happiness of every child and young person ages 0 to 18:

UNICEF USA CFCI goals 

Local governments strive to achieve and measure their success as a child-friendly community in five priority areas: 

  1. Safety and inclusion: Every child and young person is valued, respected and treated fairly within their communities and by local authorities.

  2. 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.

  3. Equitable social services: Every child and young person has access to quality essential social services.

  4. Safe living environments: Every child and young person lives in a safe, secure and clean environment​.

  5. Play and leisure: Every child and young person has opportunities to enjoy family life, play and leisure.

UNICEF USA CFCI strategies 

The UNICEF USA CFCI rests on two strategic priorities to achieve goals and results for children: community building and child-friendly governance.

Community building
  • developing sustainable mechanisms for meaningful and inclusive child and youth participation

  • increasing child rights awareness and capacity development

  • encouraging child and youth projects, campaigns and civic actions

Child-friendly governance
  • establishing a coordinating unit for children, such as a Children’s Cabinet

  • appointing advocates or ombudsmen for children

  • implementing child-responsive budgeting 

  • advocating for child-responsive policy-making

  • supporting child-sensitive urban planning

  • preparing child-responsive disaster emergency response

Learn more on UNICEF USA's Child Friendly Cities Initiative web page. 

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What are the steps for UNICEF Child Friendly City recognition in the United States?

The process of becoming a UNICEF Child Friendly City (or County) is determined by local context, such as political environment, population size and available resources. Leaders across each pilot city or county, including young leaders, work together through a CFCI task force to take the following key steps:

  1. Conduct a local situation analysis of child well-being, including children and young people in the process

  2. Based on the findings of the situation analysis, work across generations to develop a local action plan for children 

  3. Support youth and community-led projects 

  4. Implement the plan with relevant local stakeholders, including children and young people themselves

  5. Monitor and evaluate the results and adjust the plan as necessary

After a city has conducted a situational analysis and developed a local action plan approved by UNICEF USA, they can 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.

While each community’s version of the initiative may look different, each city must meet the following criteria — also required of global CFCIs — to be officially recognized as a UNICEF USA Child Friendly City:

  • results for children within the scope of several goal areas to ensure a comprehensive child rights approach

  • meaningful and inclusive child participation through established mechanisms, such as child and youth councils throughout all the phases of the CFCI process

  • demonstrated dedication to eliminating discrimination against children and young people in policies and actions by the local government, including in CFCI

UNICEF also offers a free self-led course describing the core components and steps that communities can take to become child friendly.

Being a Child Friendly City is not an end goal but rather a continuous practice. CFCI recognition in the United States is not an accreditation model. Rather, it is a transformative process through which local governments and stakeholders commit to advancing child rights.

Learn more on UNICEF USA's Child Friendly Cities Initiative web page. 

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How will UNICEF USA support CFCI pilot cities?

UNICEF has over 75 years of experience protecting children. Throughout the CFCI partnership, UNICEF USA provides participating cities with:

  • technical expertise

  • convening power

  • the equity of a global brand

  • a diverse network of dedicated volunteers

  • global and national networking opportunities 

In addition to engaging its CFCI pilot cities and county, UNICEF USA is building a national CFCI Learning Community of city officials, subject-matter experts and advocates to exchange resources and learning opportunities to put children first in local governance and decision making.

UNICEF also offers a free self-led course describing the core components and steps that communities can take to become child friendly.

Learn more on UNICEF USA's Child Friendly Cities Initiative web page. 

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How can I get involved if my city is part of a pilot?

If you are from Decatur, Ga., Houston, Tex., Johnson City, Tenn, Minneapolis, Minn., Prince George's County, Md., or San Francisco, Calif., you can thank and contact your mayor or county executive about CFCI process at act.unicefusa.org/CFCI.

UNICEF USA’s CFCI offers the following opportunities for community members to work together to improve children's quality of life:

  • The local government — which is responsible for facilitating collaboration across sectors by forming a Taskforce which then oversees CFCI implementation — offers participatory processes for community members, which support 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 can play a critical role in helping to build strong communities, strengthen local development and governance processes and gain recognition for their work.

Volunteer with UNICEF UNITE

If you are interested in getting involved with CFCI as a volunteer, join your local UNICEF UNITE team — UNICEF USA’s nationwide volunteer network that advocates, fundraises and builds community in the United States on behalf of the world’s children. As a UNITER, you will be the first to know when your city launches a CFCI volunteer opportunity. For high school and college students, join your school's UNICEF UNITE Club or start a club at your school. 

CFCI Learning Community

UNICEF USA is building a national CFCI Learning Community of city officials, subject-matter experts and advocates to exchange resources and learning opportunities to put children first in local governance and decision making. To get involved, join our CFCI Facebook Group at facebook.com/groups/unicefusaCFCI (mention this FAQ page and ask to join our Slack channel) or contact the Advocacy team at advocacy@unicefusa.org.

UNICEF also offers a free self-led course describing the core components and steps that communities can take to become child friendly.

Learn more on UNICEF USA's Child Friendly Cities Initiative web page. 

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As a city leader or subject-matter expert, how can I get involved if my city is not part of a pilot?

UNICEF USA is building a national CFCI Learning Community of city officials, subject-matter experts and advocates to exchange resources and learning opportunities to put children first in local governance and decision making. To get involved, join our CFCI Facebook Group at facebook.com/groups/unicefusaCFCI (mention this FAQ document and ask to join our Slack channel) or contact the Advocacy team at advocacy@unicefusa.org.

UNICEF also offers a free self-led course describing the core components and steps that communities can take to become child friendly.

Begin the CFCI process and learn more on UNICEF USA's Child Friendly Cities Initiative web page. 

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My city is not part of a CFCI pilot. How can I get involved?

Urge your mayor to begin the CFCI process and keep children top of mind in every policy and funding decision at act.unicefusa.org/childhood

For community volunteer opportunities, join your local UNICEF UNITE team — UNICEF USA’s nationwide volunteer network that advocates, fundraises and builds community in the United States on behalf of the world’s children. For high school and college students, join your school's UNICEF UNITE Club or start a club at your school. 

UNICEF also offers a free self-led course describing the core components and steps that communities can take to become child friendly.

Learn more on UNICEF USA's Child Friendly Cities Initiative web page. 

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For more information, resources and case studies about the global UNICEF Child Friendly Cities Initiative, join the CFCI Facebook Group, email advocacy@unicefusa.org or visit childfriendlycities.org.

Learn more about the Child Friendly Cities Initiative in the United States.

 


[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)

[iii] The Harris Poll. UNICEF USA Youth Study. https://unicefusa.box.com/v/UNICEFUSAYouthPoll (accessed July 3, 2020)

 

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