“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” – Nelson Mandela

Alton, IL, (October 18, 2023) – Today, the city of Alton is proud to announce its commitment toward becoming a UNICEF Child Friendly City in partnership with UNICEF USA. Alton will set forth on an ambitious, multi-year process to increase youth inclusion and well-being and joins just a handful of pioneering cities and municipalities in the U.S. working to obtain and uphold this important designation.

The UNICEF Child Friendly Cities Initiative (CFCI) is a framework through which communities prioritize the needs of children and young people, combat discrimination, and elevate child and youth voices in local governance and decision making. This recognition is a comprehensive process that involves local, civic and government leaders, volunteers and residents working closely with the city’s youth to determine the specific needs of children in the Alton community.

“I am excited about the city of Alton partnering with UNICEF USA to become a Child Friendly City,” said City of Alton Mayor, David Goins. “Our children are our future, and we must ensure they grow up with every opportunity to thrive, learn, and grow. This initiative is an important investment in our children. Alton’s youth deserve the utmost care and support in their formative years so they can grow to become positive influences on the next generation of children in our community.”

CFCI centers children and young people as capable actors and provides opportunities for them to share their needs and opinions to influence public policy decisions. The framework keeps children and families a priority in the policy-making process so that Alton can become a supportive community in which every child reaches their full potential.

“UNICEF USA is proud of the city of Alton’s commitment to creating a safer, more equitable community for children and young people as it embarks on its journey toward recognition as a UNICEF Child Friendly City,” said Tracy Nájera, Vice President of U.S. Programs at UNICEF USA. “In partnership with the city of Alton, we are dedicated to ensuring that every child has the right to grow up in a safe and secure community where their voices are recognized and prioritized in decision making.”

Dr. Kristie Baumgartner, Alton School District Superintendent, expressed the school district’s support of this important endeavor, stating, “The UNICEF Child Friendly Cities Initiative is important to our school district because it gives our students a powerful and meaningful voice. Additionally, it creates a crucial network of stakeholders who are committed to a shared, youth-centered mission within our community.”

To date, a management team of municipal and community partners led by Dr. Anne Scheer, Assistant Professor at SIU School of Medicine, has been established. Since 2021, Dr. Scheer and her team have laid the groundwork for Alton’s CFCI situational analysis, which examines community conditions and youth services in five areas:  safety and inclusion, participation, access to services, safe and secure housing, and play and leisure. Upon completion, the findings of this robust, child-centered community engagement process will be used to create and implement a local action plan to address priority issues. Next steps in the CFCI journey also include the creation of youth and family advisory bodies to ensure that all voices are heard and included. These forums will provide a platform for community-identified and community-driven solutions to better meet the needs of Alton’s young people and their families.

Several community partners have been instrumental in facilitating this initiative, including The City of Alton/The Mayor’s Office, SIU School of Medicine Department of Population Science and Policy, Alton Works and Alton Forward, OSF St. Anthony’s, Alton Memorial Hospital, and the Alton School District.

“At Alton Forward, we envision Alton as a place where everyone can realize their dreams and feel like they belong to a community that cares about them,” said John Simmons, who, along with Jayne Simmons, established Alton Forward as the nonprofit arm of AltonWorks. “Our commitment to Alton is long-term. That means doing the work today to ensure our children – who are the leaders of tomorrow – are cared for, prepared, and have access to the opportunities they need to succeed and thrive in the future. Becoming a UNICEF Child Friendly City is an important step in our revitalization strategy.”

The city looks forward to continuing these important partnerships and inviting other community members into the process. Individuals and organizations interested in participating in this initiative should reach out to the Mayor’s office at 618-463-3500 and provide their contact information to receive relevant notifications as the process moves forward.

For more information about Child Friendly Cities Initiative in the United States, visit www.unicefusa.org/mission/usa/childfriendlycities.