Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Children, some wearing face masks as a preventive measure, pick up free lunch at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Virginia on March 16, 2020, after schools in the area closed due to the coronavirus outbreak. (Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

Amid Pandemic and Economic Pain, UNICEF Unveils First-Ever Project to Combat Child Suffering in US

"Children in our country don't fare as well as children in other wealthy countries around the world, so we have a lot of work to do."

Julia Conley

After decades of focusing mainly on supporting young people in developing countries affected by extreme poverty, war, and disease, the international children's aid agency UNICEF on Wednesday announced its first permanent initiative focused on aiding children in the United States—arguably the world's wealthiest and most powerful nation.

The U.S. affiliate of the U.N. agency marked International Youth Day by unveiling its Child-Friendly Cities Initiative in three major U.S. cities and one county. UNICEF USA will invest $1 million this year in supporting efforts in Minneapolis, Houston, San Francisco, and Prince George's County in Maryland aimed at making the communities more livable for children.

The initiative comes as Americans are increasingly distressed over the Trump administration's failed pandemic response and amid a push to reopen public schools even as the coronavirus continues to spread rapidly in states across the country. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the precarious circumstances in which millions of U.S. children live. As many as 23 million families across the country could be evicted by October following the federal government's refusal to extend an eviction moratorium for people living in homes with federally-backed mortgages. The number of families relying on SNAP benefits jumped by six millionin the first three months of the pandemic, and a study by researchers at Northwestern University in April found that food insecurity for families with children was 40% higher that month than it was expected to be. At least 5.4 million Americans, including many with children, lost their employer-sponsored health insurance between February and April, according to Families USA, as the unemployment rate rose to nearly 15%.

Children in the U.S. are also 70% more likely than those in other wealthy countries to die before adulthood, coming in 20th place in a ranking of 20 countries in 2018. Teenagers are 82 times more likely to die as a result of gun violence in the U.S., and the nation's "fragmented healthcare system" and persistently high childhood poverty rates were linked to 600,000 excess child deaths which researchers said would likely not have happened in other wealthy countries.

Even without the coronavirus pandemic, UNICEF USA President Michael Nyenhuis told the Associated Press, "Children in our country don't fare as well as children in other wealthy countries around the world, so we have a lot of work to do."

"Then you magnify the reality of that with the Covid crisis and the issues of racial injustice, and you say, 'Something's wrong,'" he said. 

Nyenhuis said he believed the key to helping U.S. children currently lies "at the municipal level rather than the federal level."

Under the Child-Friendly Cities Initiative, the local municipalities "will conduct a situation analysis of child well-being," UNICEF USA said.

"If you want to find out" if a city is child-friendly, the agency added, "just ask the kids who live there. Do they feel safe? Can they go to a doctor when they are sick? Do they like their school? Are there plenty of parks and playgrounds where they can go and meet up with friends? Do people listen to them when they talk—their teachers, parents, coaches? Do they feel—most of the time—like they get their fair share?"

Under the program, participating cities will be urged to make themselves safer for children and ensure equitable access to social programs and outdoor spaces.

The initiative "will empower leaders to address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and system racism on children, work to combat discrimination and elevate their voices in local governance and decision-making."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Dems Mark Anniversary of 13th Amendment With Calls to 'Close the Slavery Loophole'

"Prison labor is slave labor. Pass the #AbolitionAmendment."

Jessica Corbett ·


Dems Urge DOJ Antitrust Probe Into $43 Billion Discovery-WarnerMedia Merger

"Giant corporations must not be allowed to stomp out competition, put up barriers to enter the market, and continue to exclude Latinos from the media industry."

Jessica Corbett ·


DOJ Lawsuit Challenging Texas Gerrymandering Met With Applause, Calls for Action in Congress

"While we are grateful for the involvement of the federal government, what we need to stop the five-decade cycle of having to take legal action every 10 years is for Congress to pass the Freedom to Vote Act," said one advocate.

Julia Conley ·


'Nobody Is Above the Law': Elizabeth Warren Applauds SEC Probe of Trump's Social Media Venture

"There may have been serious violations of securities laws during the proposed merger of Digital World Acquisition Corp. and Trump's media company," said the Massachusetts Democrat.

Kenny Stancil ·


'We Won't Stop Fighting,' Vow South African Activists After Judge OKs Shell Seismic Blasting at Sea

"We must do everything we can to undo the destructive colonial legacy of extractivism, until we live in a world where people and the planet come before the profits of toxic fossil fuel companies."

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo