ESN members at the European Forum on the Rights of the Child
More than 250 stakeholders, amongst them twelve ESN members, participated in the 8th European Forum on the Rights of the Child in Brussels on 17-18 December. Marie-Paule Martin Blachais from the National Observatory of Children at Risk (ONED) in France and Alexis Jay, former Chief Social Work Adviser to the Scottish Government, represented ESN during the second session. The Forum aimed to address the need for integrated child protection systems looking at future EU guidelines on child protection and providing a context for debate and exchange of good practices.
Towards EU guidelines on child protection systems
In 2011 the European Commission adopted ‘An EU Agenda for the rights of the child’ to step up efforts in protecting children’s rights, to which ESN has contributed to during its consultation phase. During the implementation of the Agenda, new directives have also entered into force: the EU anti-trafficking directive, the EU victims’ rights directive, and the regulation on matrimonial and parental responsibility. In 2013 the European Commission’s Recommendation on investing in children adopted a comprehensive approach to investing in children including resources, services and participation, although as ESN recognised in its assessment it lacks a clear and specific reference to the need to have in place a good system of alert, referral and assessment for children at risk of abuse and neglect. Therefore, the theme of the Forum is timely and relevant, in light of the mandate of the EU Strategy for 2012-2016 for the eradication of trafficking in human beings which calls on Member States to gather information for future EU guidelines on child protection systems.
In the opening of the Forum, speakers renewed their commitment to continue this work at EU level. Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, emphasised the importance of working in collaboration, as “child protection is not just a matter of one department, but a horizontal concern across sectors.” She also highlighted the role of local and regional government in the process of implementing the EU ‘Agenda for the rights of the child’, which “happens in our regions, with our practitioners.” Speaking on behalf of Ms Roberta Angelilli, Vice-President of the European Parliament and currently leading the work on the European Commission’s proposal for a directive against abuse and child pornography, MEP Soledad Becerril explained that child protection is a topic of increasing interest in the Parliament due to the high numbers of victims of child abduction, trafficking and bullying. Marie-Pierre Poirier from UNICEF also agreed that the “future European child protection guidelines need to address new forms of violence and ensure a holistic approach to prevent the most vulnerable children from falling between different administrative areas of responsibility.”
The functioning of child protection systems
In the second session of the Forum, two ESN members presented their views on child protection systems. Marie-Paule Martin Blachais from the National Observatory of Children at Risk (ONED) in France argued that current child protection systems face three main challenges:
- a pluri-disciplinary, pluri-agency, top-down approach from national to local government
- a lack of a holistic approach in management, that would allow all policy areas to feel they have a responsibility in child protection
- a lack of evidence-based child protection policies
Alexis Jay, former Chief Social Work Adviser to the Scottish Government, reviewed the crucial role of social work in child protection emphasising that social workers are those responsible for undertaking assessment, initiating action to safeguarding children and coordinating child protection plans. She also reviewed cross-European child protection issues and argued that “there is variability across Europe of workforce regulation of social workers and social services staff, including reporting and dealing with misconduct, difficulties with criminal records' checks, and transferability of qualifications.”
Exchange of good practices
Four parallel sessions looked at the role of child protection systems in specific areas, namely: ensuring respect for the best interests of the child in cases of parental abduction; meeting the needs of children on the move; protecting children from violence with regards to bullying and cyber-bullying, and female genital mutilation.
- Parental child abduction
According to the European Parliament, 25% of child abduction cases are undertaken by a member of the family; with an estimated 310 000 married couples and 137 000 divorces in Europe, there is a high level of uncertainty with regards to the responsibility of national jurisdictions. This workshop looked at non-judicial mechanisms to promote the child’s best interests, mediation, parent information schemes, prevention and responses to parental child abduction.
- Children on the move
Unaccompanied children on the move are particularly vulnerable. In its 2012 child trafficking report the European Parliament identified 12 000 unaccompanied asylum seekers within Europe’s borders. The workshop discussed key steps to ensure an integrated approach to their protection and integration, as well as tackling issues surrounding the lack of data in this area.
- Protecting children from violence – bullying and cyber-bullying
The European Parliament is now working on the Commission’s proposal for a directive against abuse and child pornography. Since bullying and cyber-bullying have been identified as major forms of violence, this workshop looked at its underlying causes, actors involved, preventative measures and policy responses.
- Protecting children from violence – female genital mutilation (FGM)
FGM has been identified as an issue in at least 13 European countries with an estimated 500 000 women and girls at risk. An action plan has been drafted at European level and workshop participants discussed how best to protect girls at risk, taking account of the lack of data in this area.
Conclusions and way forward
Some conclusions of the Forum included recognising the need for:
- A pluri-disciplinary child protection assessment tool
- Strengthening child protection workforce
- Building national capacity to monitor the impact of child protection measures
- Developing a continuum of services
- Producing and gathering data, essential for accountability
- Scaling up evidence-based practices
The suggestions and contributions from the Forum were sought with a view to developing future EU guidelines on child protection systems. The European Social Network (ESN) will follow this work and will contribute to the consultation the European Commission will launch in the coming months.