The second peer review of the European Social Network’s (ESN) project Investing in Children Services, Improving Outcomes took place in Barcelona on 5th of June, in close cooperation with ESN member, the Ministry for Social Welfare and Family of the Catalan government in Spain.
It brought together delegations with representatives from national, regional and local government, public and not-for-profit children’s services from Catalonia in Spain, Scotland in the UK, Germany, Poland and the Netherlands. Its main purpose was to analyse the organisation of children’s services in the selected countries, identify gaps in service design and implementation and formulate policy proposals. Opening the event, Neus Munte i Fernandez, Minister for Social Welfare and Family in the Catalan government, highlighted that “ESN provides a platform to review comprehensive plans covering children’s needs with the acknowledgement that investing in children is key to building a more cohesive society.”
The event was structured around three main sessions – the case for investing in children, national perspectives on quality children’s services and identification of gaps in national provision and policy proposals for improvement. The first session invited representatives from the OECD, the European Commission, the European Network of Experts on Social Inclusion and ESN to discuss the evidence-base for investing in effective child policies.
Key child poverty challenges identified in these five countries reviewed included difficulties in accessing early childcare (due to costs, large social gradient, lack of use) or the insufficient impact of family benefits. The evidence presented showed that starting investment in the early years and sustaining it throughout childhood increases the efficiency of public investment, saving money in the process and offsetting costs of long-term under-investment in human capital. However, still only a few European countries provide a continuum of support during childhood and there remain gaps in many countries, often during the early years.
The peer review continued by looking at the organisation of children services and identifying gaps in service provision across the five countries reviewed. This showed that the economic crisis is impacting upon the landscape within which services are delivered; consequently, new ways of delivering services are needed to tackle newly emerging issues. These may include temporarily freezing some universal services and delivering more targeted solutions to reach out to those most in need.
The meeting concluded with a roundtable on proposals for policy and services development – government representatives from the five countries spoke of the need to ensure that a wider concept of child poverty, that not only accounts for material poverty, but also for social development, education and participation, is embraced in all countries. For this, there is a need for a systematic and evidence-based approach and the development of policies reinforcing the role of local authorities in bringing together professionals across sectors and building a more outcomes-focused system.
The European Social Network (ESN) continues the project Investing in Children Services, Improving Outcomes by analysing the outcomes of the second peer review, preparing the profiles of the countries which participated in the first two peer reviews and preparing the third phase of the project taking place in 2015. If you would like your country to be featured in the third peer review, we look forward to hearing from you.