URBS 4/581—Selected Topics:  Growing Up in Cities


Working with children

Fred Hill, in “Lives & times of urban adolescents” (a study of ninth graders), points out that the provision of environmental opportunities for children to flourish is more amenable to manipulation for socially desirable ends than several other factors (which may be more important but are beyond the scope of government to influence).  Or, as Ollie says in the Pogo cartoon, “You gotta learn to solve the problems you can get at!”

There have been a number of studies focused on developing policy for children.  In 1976, the National Research Council (sort of a government think tank) came out with Toward a National Policy for Children and Families.  The Carnegie Council (a nonprofit think tank) published All Our Children in 1977.  The United Nations declared 1979 as “The International Year of the Child,” followed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 19xx.  The Childrens Defense Fund, a nonprofit organization founded in 1973, issues a steady stream of studies and policy reports dealing with children (see http://www.childrensdefense.org/ ).   More recently, the Minnesota Council on Foundations has completed a study of children’s issues and the funding for them, called “Supporting Minnesota’s Youth” (see http://www.mcf.org/mcf/giving/youthreport.htm ).What these studies have found is that a series of trends are affecting the lives of children:  more families are living in cities and suburbs, more women are working, families are smaller and increasingly are single-parent.  As the NRC report put it, “Because of urbanization and its attendant anonymity and impersonality, the separation of workplace and residence, increased segregation by age, and the growing secularization of society, the family is less likely to receive support in its child-rearing responsibility from the extended family, the neighborhood,  and  the community.”  That report recommends that policy for children focus on family economic resources, health care (physical & mental), child care, special services, and legal status of children.  There has been some interest in this, such as the “Child Friendly Cities website (http://www.child-friendly-cities.org ) and the “Kid Friendly Cities” report card (http://www.kidfriendlycities.org/2001/ )

A number of issues remain, however, in setting policy for children.  First, there is little research on children in their natural settings.  For example, what are the effects of the absence of either the father or the mother for long parts of the day?  What are the needs of children in single-parent households?  What are the effects of full-day vs. part-day daycare and kindergarten?  What are the effects of taking children to one’s workplace?  Second, there is a lack of systematic experimentation and evaluation of proposed programs.  Often policy is based on anecdotal evidence rather than controlled, scientific assessment.  Third, despite the work of the Children’s Defense Fund and others, there are not a commonly agreed-on set of social indicators that affect children.  At a minimum, such indicators should include measures of physical health, educational achievement, and psychological well-being/social development.




© 2004 A.J.Filipovitch
Revised 2 May 2005