UNICEF USA recently designated the City of Houston as the first city in the United States to become a Candidate for UNICEF Child Friendly City recognition. This designation reaffirms Houston’s dedication to place the needs of children first, listen to youth’s challenges and recommendations, and advocate for and protect child rights.
Houston is proud to champion the rights of children by designing a permanent system to make children an active, essential part of all the City’s policies, plans, and programs. The Mayor’s Office of Education leads the Child Friendly Cities Initiative (CFCI) in the City of Houston and has worked collaboratively with city leaders, government agencies, and most importantly, youth and families to achieve this historical distinction.
Gaining this status would not have been possible without collaboration between nearly 10 city departments, namely the Mayor’s Office of Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence, the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, the Office of Resilience and Sustainability, the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, the Mayor’s Office of Complete Communities, and the Mayor’s Office of Trade and International Affairs, and more than 30 community organizations that invested in advocating and supporting children’s rights.
“We are incredibly excited and humbled to gain this national distinction. Much work has been done and much more will be done to ensure that all youth are afforded the opportunity to have a seat at the table and a viable voice in the decisions being made in Houston,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “This process has been a city-wide effort and we look forward to continuing our work with UNICEF.”
Originally created in 1996, UNICEF’s CFCI uses the framework of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to build a roadmap for establishing safer, more just, equitable, inclusive, and child-responsive cities and communities around the world. Since its inception, CFCI has been adopted in over 3,000 municipalities in 40 countries. The City of Houston shares UNICEF’s belief that only when the rights and voices of children and young people are integrated into public policies and programs will communities become truly “child-friendly.”
“As an organization that has devoted over 75-years to upholding the rights of every child around the globe, we are delighted to celebrate the city of Houston’s historic milestone of becoming the first UNICEF Child Friendly City candidate in the United States just ahead of International Youth Day,” said UNICEF USA President & CEO, Michael J. Nyenhuis. “It’s a momentous occasion and we are proud of the city of Houston for its longstanding commitment to creating a safer, more equitable, just and inclusive community for its children and for prioritizing mental health, emergency response and youth participation.”
This achievement is the culmination of a two-year journey that involved formalizing a partnership with UNICEF USA, establishing a CFCI taskforce, conducting a situational analysis, and developing a local action plan designed to improve youth participation, resource accessibility, emergency preparedness, and mental health services. An effort birthed from the situational analysis and action plan was mental health trainings, where over 460 service providers, educators, community members and parents were trained in Youth Mental Health Aid and the impact of trauma and adverse childhood experiences. Projects like this will ensure that all Houstonians are able to create safe spaces where every child and young person has their voice, needs and priorities heard and taken seriously.
CFCI is not only dedicated to fostering an environment where children are heard, but also an environment where they can grow and thrive freely. As outlined in the city’s Resilient Houston strategy, to better serve Houston’s youth, Houston must be clean, unpolluted and provide a safe environment with access to green spaces; where children are protected from exploitation, violence, and abuse; and where they have a fair chance at life regardless of their ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, gender, or ability.
The City of Houston is also committed to being a national leader in creating inclusive and equitable sports opportunities for young people. Houston was the first, and remains the largest, city to have endorsed the Children’s Bill of Rights in Sports, developed by the Aspen Institute through its Project Play initiative and supported by UNICEF USA. Houston is proud to be a city focused on strengthening community resilience for our youngest, most vulnerable residents.
Following the announcement, a celebratory reception took place, sponsored by The alliantgroup. The City of Houston is incredibly grateful for their support in making the event reflect how special and meaningful this designation is for Houston.
To get involved in local CFCI Houston efforts, sign up for the CFCI Houston newsletter here. For more information about Child Friendly Cities Initiative in the United States, visit www.unicefusa.org/mission/usa/childfriendlycities.