Economic and social policies

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UNICEF in Action


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UNICEF in Action

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A child's right to social protection

The vision guiding UNICEF’s work in this region is that every child is protected from poverty and other forms of deprivation and exclusion. UNICEF drives results for disadvantaged children through advocacy, advice and technical support to put in place an adequate and sustainable infrastructure of public support for families and children, accountable to deliver a minimum level of social protection covering the most vulnerable children.

Our work on Economic and Social Policy in the region has these main focus areas:

• Monitoring trends in child well-being and analyzing current policies

We will use available data and collect additional information on the most vulnerable groups of children, in partnership with governments and other actors, in order to assess the trends in child wellbeing and identify equity gaps in material deprivations. We will also analyse the effectiveness of current policies and the efficiency of public budgets for social protection programmes vis–à–vis the identified vulnerabilities in child wellbeing. This may require leveraging other partners to include the impact on children’s access to services in their analyses of social protection policies.

• Addressing child poverty through improved social policies

UNICEF is working to more fully understand where and how children are experiencing poverty in the region. This knowledge is vital to devising an adequate set of policies (responses as well as pre-emptive actions) to avert harm on children caused by material deprivation, and the negative consequences of poverty during childhood over the life cycle and its transmission onto the next generation. UNICEF is actively engaged in monitoring the impact on child wellbeing of current social policies, modelling and costing alternative models and advising governments and other international and national development partners on options for reform. It also supports governments in improving national mechanisms for regular reporting on the results achieved by the national strategy and policy on social protection.

• Combating inequities and promoting social inclusion 

Discrimination and prejudice, as well as other barriers, prevent children with different types of abilities, children from ethnic minorities and those living in remote communities from pursuing and achieving their full development potential. UNICEF works together with governments to dismantle existing barriers for achieving universal access by all children to essential services, such as health and education. For example, we help to make information on social services and social protection benefits adequately available to eligible populations, increase the number and capacity of social workers and providers of social services for reaching families in remote and rural areas, and also reduce the total costs of applications for social assistance benefits compared to the value of the benefits. Through this assistance, UNICEF helps all children, with a focus on particularly disadvantaged groups such as children under 3 and the Roma, come closer to having the best start to life.

• Support equity-focused legislation/policy reforms 

Legislation and policies on targeting of social assistance result in major exclusion errors, which prevent disadvantaged groups from receiving cash benefits. Moreover, lack of clarity for funding, delivery and oversight of social services, between central, regional and local authorities often results in poor implementation of policy intent. UNICEF advocates for social assistance targeting criteria to be revised to effectively increase inclusion of disadvantaged groups. We will expand our coverage by removing the barriers and addressing the bottlenecks to social inequities. UNICEF also supports inclusion of normative provisions related to social services and links between social services and cash assistance. In addition, we provide technical advice for a functional and transparent mechanism for redress or complaints about the quality of the cash assistance and social services to be instituted by law.

• Ensuring adequate funding 

The transfer of funding for social protection benefits and basic support and care services from the state to the consumer contributes to reducing poverty and expanding children’s access to education and health services. UNICEF advocates for maintaining and expanding key public social expenditures that improve outcomes for children today, and which will also contribute to healthy, educated, productive and active citizenries and nations in the future. To this end, it also actively seeks to leverage additional resources through partnerships with other donors and international institutions such as the European Union, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. At the same time, UNICEF is assisting governments in ensuring that adequate flows of resources reach social services at the local level and that these are spent efficiently and equitably to ensure quality and affordable provision for all children.

• Enabling knowledge exchange 

UNICEF scouts across partner organizations for alternative and innovative models of social protection delivery to reach the most vulnerable. We advocate for horizontal cooperation and the exchange of experiences among countries on good practices. We work to change mind-sets and social norms to overcome social and cultural barriers and shift public opinion in favour of effective social protection for the most vulnerable. We also evaluate and document alternative approaches in order to share what works. Communication for Development strategies, campaigns, consensus building and knowledge management can overcome in the long term social and cultural barriers, influence public opinion and create broad-based support for inclusive and solidaristic social protection policies.

Looking ahead, we will prioritize knowledge and evidence through surveys that combine information on household incomes and data on individual members and their access to services – data collection that remains rare in the region. Our objective is to contribute to the establishment of a data collection, monitoring plan (with basic indicators, disaggregated by region and population group, and baselines), and dissemination mechanisms about the impact of social protection and other social programmes on children.

Now we are launching a multi-country analysis on the environment, supply, demand and social norms related to social protection in the region. We are already gathering information on policies and budget allocations that support social protection for children, media coverage of social protection issues, the number of social workers per 100,000 people and the proportion of beneficiaries who are happy with the social services that they receive.

Progress so far

UNICEF`s work in Economic and Social Policies in the region has contributed to raising the attention of governments and international development partners, such as the European Union, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, to the issue of multi-dimensional child poverty.

Many countries are now monitoring child poverty across a number of dimensions on a regular basis through national survey data. Policy-makers at national and local level are increasingly using Devinfo databases and similar platforms for gathering evidence on children, developed with UNICEF support, to inform their policy decisions and budget allocations in all sectors affecting child wellbeing.

In several countries, UNICEF advocacy grounded in solid evidence has contributed to expanding the coverage and increasing the level of benefits of social assistance schemes covering poor families with children. A few more are considering universal child benefits as an alternative policy option and have expanded their outreach services towards the most excluded populations.


UNICEF supports the geo-mapping of Roma neighbourhoods in Albania, with more than 100 locations and around 15,000 people identified to date. Mapping makes it easier to pinpoint the local authorities that should be providing services, from the census office where Roma children should be registered to the schools that they should be attending. The information is made public so that people can demand action from the relevant authorities and report any changes.


Reforms supported by UNICEF since 2011 are being scaled up to develop mechanisms for comprehensive assessment of poverty and vulnerabilities, introduction social workers acting as case managers to carry out a detailed needs assessment and identify mechanisms to support children and their families. Local Social Action Plans will be vehicles for planning social services at the territorial level.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

UNICEF supports the implementation of the Social Protection and Inclusion System (SPIS) pilot programmes combining interventions in social protection and child protection, education, health, etc. So far, 32 out of 40 municipalities have established SPI Commissions and adopted Action Plans aimed at improving the referral of child protection and inclusion services between health, education, social work professionals, the police and the judiciary. Municipal Management Boards jointly conduct situation analyses that lead to increased understanding of institutional competencies, roles and responsibilities, as well potential for cooperation. Participation of children in community activities is also envisaged as part of these plans, and a municipal database has been created in order to monitor the enrolment of all children of eligible age.

Last updated November 2013



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