UNICEF Image: Social Protection
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Social Protection

Child-sensitive social protection in context

In recent years, social protection has emerged as a major new focus in efforts to reduce poverty around the world. Social protection can be understood as a set of public actions which address not only income poverty and economic shocks, but also social vulnerability, thus taking into account the inter-relationship between exclusion and poverty. Through income or in-kind support and programmes designed to increase access to services (such as health, education and nutrition), social protection helps realize the human rights of children and families. Social protection strategies are also a crucial element of effective policy responses to adverse economic conditions, addressing not only vulnerabilities caused or exacerbated by recent crises but also increasing preparedness to future uncertainty.

Making social protection more child-sensitive has the potential to benefit not only children, but also their families, their communities and national development as a whole. Child- sensitive social protection systems mitigate the effects of poverty on families, strengthen families in their child care role, and enhance access to basic services for the poorest and most marginalized. Since many at-risk children live outside family care, child-sensitive social protection systems must be responsive to this vulnerable group, as well as to children facing abuse or discrimination at home.

Achieving child-sensitive social protection

Social protection does not have to explicitly target children in order to benefit them. Small nuances in how social protection is delivered have the potential to make a huge difference for children. UNICEF works with other governments and partners to further social protection and help ensure it is child-sensitive. The following principles should be considered in the design, implementation and evaluation of child sensitive social protection programmes:

• Avoid adverse impacts on children, and reduce or mitigate social risks that directly affect children’s lives;
•  Intervene as early as possible where children are at risk, in order to prevent irreversible impairment or harm to children;
• Consider the age and gender specific risks and vulnerabilities of children throughout the life-cycle;
• Mitigate the effects of shocks, exclusion and poverty on families, recognizing that families raising children need support to   ensure equal opportunity;
• Make special provision to reach children who are particularly vulnerable and excluded, including children without parental care, and who are marginalized within their families or communities due to their gender, disability, ethnicity, HIV/AIDS or other factors, and;
• Consider the mechanisms and intra-household dynamics that may affect how children are reached, with particular attention paid to the special circumstances of women;
• Include the voices and opinions of children and youth themselves in the understanding and design of social protection systems and programmes.

Building integrated social protection systems

UNICEF is committed to providing technical and financial assistance to national governments and counterparts in the development of integrated social protection strategies. Taking an integrated approach to social protection entails:

• Addressing both economic and social vulnerabilities;
• Providing comprehensive packages of interventions based on a population’s needs and context;
• Coordinating interventions with appropriate supply-side investments and enhancing the availability and quality of services;
• Facilitating inter-sectoral coordination that addresses the multidimensional nature of poverty and exclusion;
• Framing social protection strategies within a broader set of social and economic policies that promote human development and growth.

Yet, while UNICEF promotes integrated strategies, it supports the progressive realization of universal social protection coverage and encourages nationally led and defined social strategies that are responsive to local contexts. At the same time, UNICEF plays a role in highlighting not only the specific vulnerabilities faced by children but also the different vulnerabilities faced by oftentimes excluded groups such as girls, indigenous peoples, and people with disabilities. In this way, UNICEF works to make social protection both more child-sensitive and inclusive.

To learn more about UNICEF’s approach to child-sensitive social protection, see UNICEF’s first global Social Protection Strategic Framework



Documents and publications

  • Global Economic Crisis and Recovery
  • Child Poverty and Disparities
  • Migration
  • Social Budgeting
  • Social protection

Latest news

New policy brief! Common Ground: UNICEF and World Bank Approaches to Building Social Protection Systems
February 2013

Social Protection Strategic Framework
Launched in New York and Brussels
May and June 2012

Social Protection Floor (SPF) inter-agency website and Costing Tool are launched.
April 2012

Social Protection: Accelerating the MDGs with Equity
Isabel Ortiz, Gaspar Fajth, Jennifer Yablonski and Amjad Rabi
MDG progress is measured in terms of national averages but these statistical averages often disguise that progress has not accrued to those at the bottom - arguably those who need it most.

Joint Statement on Child Sensitive Social Protection
Social protection has long been used in industrialized countries to help ensure that the benefits of economic growth reach the poorest and most marginalized, helping to fulfil the internationally accepted right to a decent standard of living.