A new report from the U.N. Children's Fund says the United States and Britain are the worst countries in the industrialized world in which to be a child. UNICEF says an examination of 40 factors, such as poverty, deprivation, happiness, relationships, and risky or bad behavior puts the United States and Britain at the bottom of a list of 21 economically developed nations.
The UNICEF report sought to assess children's well-being in developed countries by measuring a number of factors, including health, education, poverty, family relationships, and bad or risky behavior. Children were also asked to say whether they were happy.
In the overall table of children's well-being, the Netherlands comes out on top, followed closely by the Scandinavian countries, which also have highly developed welfare systems. At the bottom are the United States at No. 20, and Britain at No. 21.
It's not that developed welfare states necessarily have happier children, says David Parker of UNICEF.
"I think what we know from history in the U.S.," Parker says, "is that it's not necessarily how the welfare is provided but the nature of the support. One of the key things is that the role of government is important, but the entire society must have at its heart the idea of improving child well-being."
The United States fared worst of all 21 countries in health and safety, measured by rates of infant mortality and accidents and injuries.
The United States and Britain were lowest overall in the category of behavior and risks, meaning that American and British children are more likely to use drugs, drink alcohol and be sexually active than children elsewhere.
Professor Jonathan Bradshaw from the University of York in England led the research into the project. He was scathing about the failures of successive British governments.
"We've failed to invest in child health, in child education, in child care," Bradshaw says. "It's the result of neglect, which other countries have not done… they've just spent more on their children, despite the fact they're not as rich as we are."
In almost all the categories, poorer nations such as Poland and the Czech Republic fared better than the United States and Britain.