According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), every year at least 55 million children in Europe suffer some form of physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological violence (January 2020). Since public social services are responsible for protecting children from any form of violence, the European Social Network (ESN) held a webinar on 3-4 March to discuss their role in achieving the sustainable development goal (SDG) 16.2 on ending abuse, exploitation, trafficking, and all forms of violence against children.
ESN members at the online meeting discussed the role of social services in safeguarding children against all forms of violence and learned about best practice from France, Scotland, and Spain. Representatives from the social services sector also shared their insights regarding challenges and recommendations in the development and implementation of legislation, policy, strategies, and programmes advancing SDG 16.2.
Understanding the role of social services in protecting children against violence
To understand the role of social services in safeguarding children, it is essential to comprehend the current status of children exposed to violence. Alexander Butchart, Head of the Violence Prevention Unit- Social Determinants of Health at WHO presented the organisation’s ‘Global Status Report on Preventing Violence against Children 2020’. This comprehensive research gathers national and international figures for children suffering from violence and issues related to countries’ actions.
Social services are crucial in protecting children from violence. However, they cannot work alone. Jennifer Davidson, University of Strathclyde in Scotland, highlighted the importance of cooperation across sectors. “Social work is about building relationships with people to work collaboratively with them”, said Ms Davidson. Participants also emphasised the need for a clear policy framework. Maren Lambrecht-Feigl, programme officer at the Council of Europe, detailed their endeavours to “build a Europe for and with children” under active collaboration and support for better child rights policies in each country.
Best practice from – France, Scotland, and Spain
Marie-Paule Martin-Blachais, from the Child Protection Training School, told attendees about a new legal and politicy paradigm to put children at the centre. She explained that the essence of French child care and protection policy was to guarantee children’s best interest. Likewise, the French system concentrated on having clear and easily understood national guidelines for local authorities to implement.
James Cox, adviser to the Scottish government, explained that dialogue and cross-sectoral partnership are crucial to protect children. However, to bring about a successful partnership, there should be first an open conversation. “Without curiosity, we are not listening but likely to assume and pre-judge. We need to listen with care”, said Mr Cox.
In Spain, the Barnahus model is an integrated care unit for children who are victims of sexual abuse. Ester Cabanes, director of Catalonia’s General Directorate for Children and Adolescence, explained that the model provides a friendly service for children to minimise their trauma and assess whether there was sexual abuse. The model “puts the child’s story at the centre” under close cooperation from various sectors.
Challenges and recommendations
During the discussion, participants shared their opinions on the various challenges involved in safeguarding children from violence, including difficulties associated with cross-sectoral partnerships. There was agreement on the importance of having a common language across all sectors to achieve a large impact from the local to the European level. Collectively, they recommended listening to the voice of children and putting them at the centre when designing national strategies to end violence against children. ESN CEO Alfonso Lara Montero also consented to these insights when concluding the meeting, “child care policy is vital as it offers opportunities for children to flourish, children who otherwise would be neglected and subject to violence”.
European Committee of the Regions (2017, June 14). Launching the European Barnahus Movement. The EU’s Assembly of Regional and Local Representatives.