Understanding and protecting the universal child

From June 28-30 2017 the International Society for Child Indicators brought together 350 researchers, policy-makers, practitioners, and advocates from 47 countries and all continents to share the latest research on child well being. The McGill conference was the first time ISCI held its annual conference in Canada.


The recent International Society for Child Indicators (ISCI) conference at McGill put Canada’s best child welfare researchers in the international spotlight. The conference put Canada in a unique position as a leader in the field. Under the theme Children in a World of Opportunities: Innovations in Research, Policy and Practice, ISCI 2017 was the largest and most diverse conference ever focussing on data about how children are doing internationally.

It was the first time that the International Society for Child Indicators (ISCI) met in Canada, and only the second time in the Americas.

Three-hundred and fifty researchers, policy-makers, practitioners, and advocates from 47 countries shared the latest research. Participants included academics and researchers, policymakers and child advocates and major child-focused non-government organizations and donors, such as Save the Children and UNICEF.

There are two broad approaches to defining child well-being, using what experts call indicators. The first is to measure objective factors such as housing, education, and health.

The second is subjective-directly asking children about how they feel about their lives.

The resulting data, or indicators, are used at international, national, and local levels to shape effective policies and programs.

Professor Monica Ruiz-Casares, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and at the Centre for Research on Children and Families at McGill, was one of the conference organizers. Professor Ruiz-Casares says there is no good social policy without good data.

“Canada has a strong education system, and it is doing comparatively well in some aspects of child well-being. We are also reducing infant mortality and teen births. Yet we lag behind in other areas, particularly related to health and violence. Adolescent suicide and bullying rates remain high, and 22 per cent of children in Canada live in poverty,” says Ruiz-Casares. “Food insecurity is alarming in many households. Some groups of the population are particularly disadvantaged and unequal health care, education and child-welfare systems are to this day found in aboriginal communities.”

Professor Ruiz-Casares says recent data shows one in seven Canadian children lives in poverty. “That puts Canada at 15th out of 17 peer countries. The Nordic countries —Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden — have the lowest rates of child poverty, with less than 7 per cent of children living in poor households,” she says.” The relationship between social spending and poverty rates has become more obvious over time, so it is no surprise that the leading countries boast strong traditions of wealth redistribution. The U.S. still has the highest poverty rate among industrialized countries.”

Even in the wealthiest countries, there is an under-class of children. According to the latest Report Card comparing the situation of children in 41 high-income countries issued by the UNICEF Office of Research 1 in 5 children in rich countries lives in poverty.

An average of 1 in 8 children in high-income countries faces food insecurity, rising to 1 in 5 in the United Kingdom and the United States.

In the last ten years, ISCI has held conferences every two years all over the world, including Chicago, York, Sydney, Seoul, and Cape Town. The next conference will take place August 27-29, 2019 in Tartu, Estonia.