Implementing the European Recommendation Investing in Children at national and local levels
On 15 May the European Social Network (ESN) organised in Dublin the first peer review of the research project Investing in Children Services, Improving Outcomes. In the afternoon session Hugh Frazer, an expert on social inclusion policies from NUI Maynooth, led a discussion with delegates. He started with the reminder that “the Recommendation was initially foreseen as an income recommendation for families, but thanks to networks like ESN which insisted on the multidimensional nature of poverty and the need to highlight the role of services, this has changed.”
Below, are some of the recurrent country-specific gaps highlighted in the discussion.
In Ireland, delegates referred to the lack of inter-agency work and the need for a framework coherent enough to call it national, but which also allows for local flexibility, as well as the need to evaluate the outcomes of interventions for children in the long run.
In Bulgaria, the accessibility of services in all regions and the need to strengthen support for municipalities who play a key role in provision were highlighted as key issues. Furthermore, the development of multidisciplinary work was seen as essential especially in a setting where public authorities are trying to get significant changes in education, deinstitutionalisation and social welfare in a very limited amount of time.
In France the lack of intermediate structures to progress between residential care for children and social protection for young people transitioning into adulthood was identified as a particular issue. This adds to the lack of clarity within the legislation as to which are the rights of the child and which are the rights of the family.
In Sweden delegates highlighted whether the development of free schools, which reinforce the freedom of choice for parents, is the right approach in terms of promoting equal opportunities for all children; they referred to the importance of monitoring needs better and planning services based on needs and outcomes are seen as possible ways to improve children services.
The final round table chaired by ESN’s chief executive John Halloran focused on measures that national governments should undertake to ensure the implementation of the Recommendation. Some of the directions highlighted include the need to:
- put in place reforms ensuring that social services are sustainable from a financial point of view, but also from the point of view of political leadership and staff training (Pravda Ignatova, Ministry of Social Policy in Bulgaria)
- develop a national strategy for childhood with fighting poverty and improving children’s wellbeing playing a part of the strategy. In terms of governance, this includes the need to re-enforce decentralisation and better communication between national and local levels, (Hélène Escande, Ministry for Health and Social Affairs, France)
- address transitions (for example, school-secondary school-adult life) and multiple disadvantages (such as disability and child protection), and to motivate and support practitioners (Cate Hartigan, Health Services Executive, Ireland)
- make sure that the effects of poverty are less severe and education does not exacerbate disadvantages but becomes a driver of equal opportunities for children (Pia Fagerström from the Ministry in Sweden)
Concluding, John Halloran acknowledged the important role of public services to ensure that children develop to their full potential and break the transmission of disadvantage across generations. The European Social Network will continue the research project Investing in Children Services, Improving Outcomes by analysing the outcomes of this first peer review and preparing a second meeting in 2014, which will focus on 6 other countries.