How has the war changed Ukrainian children and what challenges await them ahead? Olena Zelenska Foundation presented the results of the "Future Index" study

26 February 2024
Today the First Lady, along with her Foundation team, presented the "Future Index" study. The project was implemented on the initiative of Olena Zelenska Foundation, in collaboration with the Kyiv School of Economics and with the support of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Ukraine.

The main goal of the study is to comprehensively assess the current situation of children's well-being in Ukraine. This will enable the implementation of effective projects and programs aimed at addressing critical problems for children caused by the full-scale war.

"Two years of the full-scale invasion, a life filled with constant danger – it's too much even for an adult. But unfortunately for our children, it's a significant part of their lives now. Half, a third of it... And if we, as adults, say that the war has changed us, shattered our lives – then what does it do to the lives of children? We all know the basic statistics. But there are more 'quiet' changes in children's life conditions. Perhaps not so obvious at first glance. But very important. These are changes in the quality of their lives. In what they are entitled to and what they receive instead. War takes away their opportunities and creates additional obstacles on their path. What can we, as adults, do about this? My colleagues at Olena Zelenska Foundation and I have been thinking about this question, which is why we initiated the "Future Index'' study. To assess the well-being of Ukrainian children. I think the name speaks for itself. What happens to children now determines what will happen to them – and to us! – in the future," said the First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska.

The study assessed children's well-being across 9 parameters: education, health care, safety, material well-being, mental health, social skills, risky behavior, relationships with family and friends, and institutional care. More than 1,300 children between the ages of 10 and 17 from across Ukraine (excluding the temporarily occupied territories) were surveyed.

"The index, developed by the Foundation in collaboration with partners, will enable the implementation of effective programs at the state level. They should address the critical issues facing children during and after the war. The future of Ukraine depends on the well-being of its children," said Nina Horbachova, Director of Olena Zelenska Foundation.

According to the study, the Future Index in Ukraine is currently 0.64 (the index is a value ranging from 0 to 1, with a higher value indicating a better situation). The worst situation of children's well-being is in the areas of health, education and institutional care.

"It is important to note that the Future Index is a pilot project. Repeated surveys will allow us to see the situation of children's well-being in dynamics. This will allow us to adjust the implemented programs, get better results and contribute to the happy future of our children," said Tymofii Brick, Rector of the Kyiv School of Economics.

The presentation of the Future Index took place today at the "Atelier of Dreams" exhibition organized by UNICEF.

"Two years of destruction and displacement, violence, isolation, separation from family members and friends, loss of loved ones, educational loss, and problems with access to health and social services are leading to a crisis in the mental health and deteriorating educational performance of children in Ukraine. UNICEF is calling for a child-centered and sustainable recovery of Ukraine, and focuses on encouraging children and youth to actively participate in this recovery," Munir Mammadzade, UNICEF Representative to Ukraine.

Key findings of the pilot study:

Institutional care. There are twice as many children in institutional care in Ukraine as in the European Union (per 100,000 children).

Children raised in institutions receive only formal care. Instead, they face cases of violence against themselves, lack of confidentiality, coercion, lack of choice, etc. This is evidenced by in-depth interviews with alumni of residential institutions. Therefore, after leaving the state care system, children do not have basic skills of independence, are unable to solve problems or trust, and feel lonely.

Education. In Ukraine, 24% of children study exclusively online, which is almost 1 million schoolchildren. Half of parents - 55% - rate the conditions for their children's distance learning as "very good or good." However, parents of children from the east of the country were more likely to report poor conditions - 22% in total.

Another conclusion of the pilot study is that the level of math skills is systematically lower than the level of Ukrainian and English language skills.

We also measured the proportion of children participating in extracurricular activities. This is an important part of education as it allows children to develop their all-round skills and talents. Only 69% of children have hobbies, but only 40% participate in extracurricular activities.

Health. During the 2 years of the full-scale war, the percentage of children vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and polio decreased by 16% and 22%, respectively. According to experts, parents are less likely to vaccinate their children because stress and uncertainty make it harder for them to think about the long term. Some children could not be vaccinated because of the hostilities.

Physical activity was one of the indicators used to assess health. 75% of the children surveyed were engaged in physical activity. However, girls were less active and less likely to feel full of energy.

Risky behavior. Half of the children aged 14-17 have tried alcohol and cigarettes - 56% and 53% respectively. 3% have tried drugs. Systematically, at least once a week, 16% of children smoke and 13% drink alcohol.

Safety. 60% of children surveyed in Ukraine feel safe. Children from the south of the country feel the least safe - 49%.

40% of children are bullied at least once a month. Every week 12% of children are bullied.

Mental health. Almost half of children in Ukraine - 44% of children - show signs of potential PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). This means that children find it difficult to concentrate (35% of respondents), get upset easily or get into fights (30% of respondents), feel lonely (27% of respondents), and have trouble sleeping (23% of respondents).

Overall, 71% of children consider themselves happy.

Social and emotional skills. 86% of children show empathy: they are concerned about the feelings of other people.

Relationships in the family and with friends. 73% of children have good family relationships, 80% enjoy being at home with their families. At the same time, children with higher signs of potential PTSD are less likely to rate their family relationships positively.

86% of children have friends, but only 53% believe that friends can support them in difficult times.

The results of the pilot study show that the worst situation in children's well-being is in three areas: "health", "education" and "institutional care". The full-scale war, which has been going on for 2 years, has significantly worsened well-being indicators in a number of areas.

Details of the pilot study of the Future Index can be found here.