Right now, nearly 18 million children are at risk of poverty or social exclusion in Europe. The Covid-19 crisis is expected to have greatly exacerbated these inequalities. However, public social services have now gained a commitment to action from all 27 EU member states to break the cycle of disadvantage for vulnerable children. The European Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council of Ministers (EPSCO) met in Brussels on 14 June and adopted a Recommendation on the European Child Guarantee. In close consultation with EU bodies, the European Social Network (ESN) has stressed the need for public social services to be included as a central partner in the building and implementation of the Child Guarantee.
How will the Child Guarantee impact children’s lives?
The objective of the Child Guarantee is to prevent and combat the social exclusion of children in need by guaranteeing effective and free access to early childhood education and care, education and school-based activities, at least one healthy meal each school day and healthcare, as well as effective access to healthy nutrition and adequate housing.
Children who are excluded at a young age from these essential goods and services are systematically prevented from fully participating in society as adults. Securing these key services for vulnerable children, therefore, helps uphold the rights of the child by combating child poverty and fostering equal opportunities.
The European Commission’s European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan set the target to reduce by 15 million the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion, including at least 5 million children by 2030. The Child Guarantee acts as an instrument to put this principle into practice.
Putting words into action at EU and national levels
Appointed coordinators from Member States must submit their National Child Guarantee Action Plans by the end of March 2022. These plans will outline the policies and measures tailored to their national contexts, aimed at ensuring that children in need have equal access to essential services alongside their peers.
In our Response to the Child Guarantee Consultation, ESN members and public social services stressed the importance of prioritising care for children in situations of vulnerability, for instance, through the implementation of National Child Care Plans. Furthermore, consultation and inclusion of regional and local authorities with responsibility for child protection, and children themselves, was identified as a key factor for success.
The EU can set the policy agenda, but ultimately cooperation between national governments and public social services at local and regional levels will bring about the concrete changes that benefit children in need of care and support.
Therefore, ESN is pleased that the EPSCO Recommendation stipulates that in order to identify children in need, and the barriers they face in accessing and taking up the services covered by this Recommendation, Member States should involve relevant stakeholders, which includes public social services. ESN also welcomes the improvements agreed in governance and reporting mechanisms that will hold member states accountable in the implementation of these plans.
At present, ESN has a working group dedicated to assessing the National Recovery and Resilience Plans for their inclusion of family preventative approaches, community based services and overall child social welfare. We will apply this experience in our assessment of the Child Guarantee Action Plans in order to ensure they incorporate these elements.
Are all vulnerable children included?
The Child Guarantee promotes the transition from institutional to family and community-based care. However, by using the wording of supporting children solely in ‘institutional care’ in article 10d on ‘adequate housing’, it is highly likely that some vulnerable children will be left behind. Instead, the all-encompassing UN definition of ‘alternative care’ should be used.
In response to the ambiguous wording, ESN’s CEO Alfonso Montero said:
“So long as child policies only focus on transitioning children out of institutional care, there is a risk of children in need being left behind. In order to solve the issue of children’s fundamental rights being ignored, we must use the definitions that are inclusive of all children.”