The European Social Network’s (ESN) third meeting of the ‘Investing in Children’s Services, Improving Outcomes’ project brought together national, regional and local representatives working in children’s services from Hungary, Romania, Portugal, Italy and Belgium to discuss the implementation of the European Commission's (EC) Recommendation 'Investing in Children, Breaking the Cycle of Disadvantage'. Opening the event, Mr. Károly Czibere, Minister of State for Social Affairs and Social Inclusion from the Ministry of Human Capacities, stressed the significance of bringing the event to Hungary and underlined the importance of investing in human capital, particularly children’s services. He described this investment as a national issue for Hungary, and cemented his intentions to increase children’s participation in early childhood education and care.
The event was structured around three main sessions – the case for investing in children’s services at European level, national perspectives on quality children’s services and identification of gaps in national provision and proposals for policy and service development.
The first session invited representatives from the OECD, the European Commission (EC), the European Social Policy Network and ESN to discuss the evidence-base for investing in effective children’s policies and services. Although the five countries have made progress in implementing the Recommendation, there are still improvements that can be made in light of the European Commission’s 2015 Country Reports. ESN provides a detailed analysis of the main challenges for each of the Member States, alongside a discussion of Nora Milotay’s (EC) proposal for a quality framework in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC), and Olivier Thévenon’s (OECD) analysis of cross-country differences in child wellbeing outcomes, in our supporting article ‘Investing in Children Services, Improving Outcomes: A European Perspective’.
The peer review continued by looking at the organisation of children’s services across the five countries reviewed. The five national delegations provided country specific data on numbers of children in care, child social welfare and ECEC participation rates for children aged 0-3 and children aged 3 and above. An overarching conclusion across these presentations was the fact that in all countries there is still a considerable number of children in residential care.
The highly technical and data-based structure of the meeting allowed national delegations to outline their challenges, which included:
- Portugal: Issues with quality
- Belgium: A lack of services in urban centres
- Romania: Problems with social exclusion and high levels of working poor
- Italy: Health poverty and working poor
- Hungary: Limitations to ECEC for children (0-2) in rural areas and regional differences
For an in-depth analysis of positive trends and country-specific challenges, see ESN’s ‘Investing in children services, improving outcomes: Positive trends and challenges from a national perspective’ article.
Proposals for policy and service development
The meeting concluded with a roundtable on proposals for policy and services development – government representatives from the five countries spoke of the need to address child poverty and well-being through an evidence-based, multi-dimensional and multi-level policy framework, prioritising access and quality, social work training and the use of Structural Funds for preventive and community care services.
The meeting was a great success as it provided national delegations a unique platform to share their progress and challenges in the local implementation of the Recommendation. In the next months, ESN will work on developing the country profiles and proposals for policy and service development across the participating countries in the project.