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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 February 2007, 16:16 GMT
Methodology behind Unicef report
Jill McGivering
BBC News

The UK has come bottom of a Unicef league table for child well-being.

But what was the methodology behind the report?

Teenagers
The Unicef report looked at the experiences of young people

Unicef describes this as a report card, an overview of child well-being in rich countries.

In fact, Unicef has issued many report cards before.

But in the past they each focused on more concrete and quantifiable aspects of child welfare, looking specifically at one topic, such as child poverty or teenage pregnancies.

This report is so unusual because it makes a radical departure.

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It attempts to bring together information from a wide range of existing studies across many aspects of a child's life - from birth weight to health behaviour, like smoking, sexual activity, diet and exercise.

It also embraces the more complicated realm of emotional well-being, including sections on relationships with family and friends and, perhaps most ambitious of all, how children feel about themselves and their lives.

The data itself is not newly commissioned.

But it is thought to be the first time existing data has been put together to form such a wide-ranging and comprehensive study.

The aim, it says, is to give a much more multi-dimensional view of how children are faring.

The report's authors recognise that this is not a precise science.

In their conclusion, the report's authors draw attention to the imprecise nature of the report
Jill McGivering

Some OECD countries, including Australia, Japan and New Zealand, are not included in the final league table because there simply was not enough data available. Some do make brief appearances in individual sections.

There are gaps in terms of topics too.

The report's authors say there were some sections they could not include because the data available in some countries didn't adequately match the data available in others.

A section on a child's exposure to violence in the home, for example, both as victims and witnesses, had to be excluded.

There were problems, say the authors, of different definitions in different countries, as well as problems of matching data.

The report focuses heavily on the lives and experiences of older children (11 years and above) because there is much more information available on this age group.

'Historical snapshot'

The authors had hoped to include data on the early education of three and four-year-olds - but the information simply wasn't there.

The reference section covers several pages - listing all the published studies which were used in the various sections.

The prime sources are existing OECD or World Health Organization reports.

Some of these were published several years ago - a reminder that this overall assessment is a slightly historical snapshot.

Clear aim

Any policy changes or improvements in the last five years, for example, are unlikely to have filtered through yet.

In their conclusion, the report's authors draw attention to the imprecise nature of the report.

An overview of this kind should be seen as "a work in progress", they write, "in need of improved definitions and better data".

But it is a start. And the aim is clear.

They hope this new style of report will "encourage monitoring, permit comparison and stimulate the discussion and development of policies to improve children's lives".

It has already succeeded on one count - on the day of its launch, there has been plenty of discussion.


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