The 9th European Forum on the rights of the child focused on coordination in integrated child protection systems. ESN’s Policy Director Alfonso Lara Montero was a panelist in session I, which looked at mechanisms to prevent violence against children.

The role of social work

At the opening session, Ms Anna Maria Corazza Bildt, Co-Chair of the European Parliament Intergroup on the Rights of the Child, highlighted key EU legislative and policy documents relevant to child protection including the directives on victims’ rights and on child sexual abuse and exploitation. Ms Susan Bissell, Child Protection Chief at UNICEF, reminded the audience that an engagement of health and education professionals with social workers was key to ensure good outcomes for children.

However, national implementation gaps were also acknowledged. Ms Gabriela Coman, Director of the State Agency for Child Protection, explained that in Romania there is just one social worker per 4300 inhabitants against an average of 200-300 social workers per inhabitant in most EU countries; nonetheless a pilot on integrated services has been tested and the use of Structural Funds to build community based services will be key over the coming years.

Coordinated services to prevent violence against children

Alfonso Lara Montero spoke alongside representatives from the WHO, academia and child advocacy organisations on prevention mechanisms. The WHO’s Dinesh Sethi argued that the impact of child maltreatment is much higher than we know since an estimated 90% goes unreported. EPIC’s Reidin Dunne referred to the child protection situation in Ireland and highlighted that 480 out of the 6,452 children in care (of approximately 1.5 million children) do not have an allocated social worker, which is important because a social worker is the single most significant referent for every child in care.

ESN’s Alfonso Lara Montero also presented various examples of coordinated approaches to identify risk, which have been gathered as part of ESN’s project ‘Investing in children’s services, improving outcomes’. These include common assessment frameworks drafted by national agencies with local authorities, regional risk prevention models and local prevention systems, which demand cooperation between local services working with families where a potential risk has been identified. He argued for clear ownership when it comes to the statutory duty of child protection and highlighted the role of local authorities and child protection committees, which make sure that child protection procedures are followed by relevant agencies in many EU countries.

Cross-border child protection

The forum’s background paper referred to the need to have clear responsibility and procedures in cross-border situations. From a social work perspective, ESN highlighted the variability across EU countries of workforce regulations, qualifications and police checks/records whilst violence against children does not know of geographical barriers. A need for national contacts for cross-border child protection issues and further exchange on assessment and risk were recommended.

Follow up

ESN will contribute to the conclusions and the 10 principles presented at the Forum over the next days. If you would like to discuss our ideas, please contact ESN's Policy Director Alfonso Lara Montero.

For further information on the Forum and presentations, please visit the Forum’s website.