For Every Child Answers: 30 years of research for children at Unicef Innocenti

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For the past 30 years, UNICEF’s Office of Research – Innocenti has probed the most pressing questions facing children, to find solutions that can help realize their rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

We opened our doors in 1989 - the same year the Convention was approved by the UN General Assembly - thanks to the generosity of the Istituto degli Innocenti – a unique, historic institution founded over 600 years ago, and possibly the world’s oldest continuously operating centre of care for vulnerable children. We are immensely grateful to the Istituto, and equally so to the Municipality of Florence, the Regional Administration of Tuscany and the Government of Italy, for their unstinting support over the years.

The Convention, which has become the most widely-ratified human rights treaty in history, is the foundation of our work here in Florence. From its outset, the Office has supported the interpretation and application of the Convention by governments through its research and advocacy. Some of our earliest work sought to clarify terms and concepts of the Convention, such as ‘the best interests of the child’ and the ‘evolving capacities of the child’, so they could be incorporated into constitutions, legislation and policy.

We have also monitored progress on implementing the Convention’s general measures, including strengthening institutions in support of children’s rights.

Over the years UNICEF Innocenti has compiled a unique body of knowledge on the Convention’s progress, its successes, and the key obstacles in its pathway.

Ten years ago, we evolved from a small research institute focused on interpreting the Convention into UNICEF’s Office of Research, overseeing this portfolio for the organization’s 140-plus Country and Regional Offices. As befits an organization with a wide-ranging mandate such as UNICEF, our research portfolio is broad and diverse. The Office undertakes research on key issues for children and young people and publishes in peer review journals to inform policy and programmes. We set standards and guidelines for research governance and support field offices in commissioning research. We train UNICEF staff in robust and ethical research methodologies and governance.
Collaboration and partnerships with external research and policy institutions are central to our work. We are regularly approached by governments and universities to work in partnership with others to generate and synthesize research. One such example of this is Global Kids Online, a partnership with the London School of Economics and 20 governments and research institutions, which researches children’s online activities, access and risks. Another is our partnership with the School of Social Work at the University of Hargeisa in Somaliland to research the challenges facing children and youth on the move in the Horn of Africa. The Transfer Project, which examines the impact of cash transfers in a range countries, is a partnership with Save The Children UK, the University of North Carolina, UNICEF, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, and national governments including Zambia and Malawi. Through these and other partnerships we connect to realities worldwide and amplify the results of our work.

As our work evolves over the next 30 years, emerging issues such as climate change, displacement, urbanization, mental health and technology, are assuming increasing importance to children, presenting risks and offering opportunities to realize their rights. Some established issues, such as learning and skills acquisition, will require more of our attention given slower global progress in recent years. And some areas of the world including sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia, and socioeconomic groups, first and foremost the poorest, most disadvantaged and marginalized in all countries, merit greater evidence generation and research support.

We are continuously striving to improve, particularly in monitoring and understanding the impact of our research and our outreach. This is always challenging since it is often hard to link evidence and outcomes. But new methodologies are emerging that can help us, our funders and our policymakers to better understand how high-quality, ethical research on children and young people can lead to improved policies and programmes for them, and ultimately to their greater well-being.
The 30 narratives in this publication showcase the range and depth of the work UNICEF Innocenti has undertaken over three decades of existence. Our staff and consultants who undertake this work, lie at the heart of our office, and we are immensely grateful to them for their dedication and expertise. In everything we do, our overarching objective is to seek answers to the most pressing challenges for children, and to make the Convention of the Rights of the Child a living reality for every child.