A recent seminar organized jointly by the Riigikogu and the Office of the Chancellor of Justice looked at Estonian children's welfare, including issues that need solving and the very means of measuring that welfare.
The seminar, entitled "Child Well-being Indicators: Current Situation in and Possibilities for Describing the Situation of Children," emphasized that an integral overview and monitoring of the situation facing children in Estonia could prevent problems and support all-round child development.
At the same time, assembled experts noted that society could pay a high price for ignoring the issue.
The Chancellor of Justice, Ülle Madise, had already reported the following state recommendations on child welfare to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child:
- Both child-centered (i.e. with the child as an observation "unit") and child-based (with the child as an information source) data should be published in mainstream statistics, bringing out the 0–17 age group in each area;
- Continuing to collect data from children themselves, including questions relating to economic and social well-being;
- Creating a system of indicators reflecting the well-being of children, and publishing these each year to evaluate how far children's rights are assured;
- Replacing aggregate data on children with individual data in data collection systems, or improving data collection systems to make it be possible to retrieve and combine and publish data on different age groups of children according to the needs and traditions of the interested party.
Andra Reinomägi, adviser at the chancellor's office, noted both that children make up about a fifth of the population, and childhood itself makes up about a fifth of a lifespan, on average, according to a Riigikogu press release.
"It is important that we understand how children in Estonia live. Unfortunately, we have to admit that the assessment of the rights and well-being of children in Estonia is incomplete; relevant indicators are fragmented, and the age divisions of regular statistics often do not enable us to get an overview of 0–17 year-old children as a whole. The obstacles are the structure of data collections and also the absence of data," Reinomägi said.
Creator of the International Society for Child Indicators (ISCI) network Professor Asher Ben-Arieh of the Hebrew University of Israel highlighted a clear message in his report: "Listen to the child!"
Dagmar Kutsar, Associate Professor in Social Policy at the University of Tartu, said that although research of children's well-being is a new trend in social sciences, the studies conducted in Estonia and international studies had considerably helped understand children.
"It is very important that our practitioners working with children as well as policy-shapers are aware of the real situation of children in Estonia, and also the results of international research work, because this establishes conditions for early identification of problems, reacting to these and making informed decisions," Kutsar said.
The seminar also criticized published data, due to the lack of sufficient child-centered statistics within mainstream statistics flows.
For example, figures on the number and percentage of households with children is regularly published in Estonia, but there are no child-centered statistics on the number and percentage of children in different types of households, which would add a children-based meaning to this data, the seminar found.
Foresight Center representative Mari Rell focused on the general measuring of well-being in a human resources research project.
"Up to now, economic success has primarily been emphasized in policy-shaping, and economic growth has been the aim. The new treatment, which we also follow in our human resources research path and which many countries already use, is the so-called 'beyond GDP' approach, where wider comprehension of the well-being of humans and social development of the country is important," Rell said.
Editor: Andrew Whyte