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As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, violence against children and the need to act has become even more pronounced, due to disruptions in prevention and response services.

Across Europe, there are children vulnerable to abuse, which can be physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological. Despite increasing condemnation by international and national institutions, and a growing body of legislation, policy, and child-centred practice to protect them, violence remains a harsh daily reality in many children’s lives.

Public social services have a statutory duty to protect all children from violence, but this duty transcends social services and applies to all public services working with children. Members of the European Social Network (ESN) in public child protection services highlight that their primary practice guidance is led by principle three on children’s best interest of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC). Yet there are several questions to make sure that children’s best interest are effectively implemented.

Addressing violence against children

There are three overarching questions that should be addressed at local, national and international levels if we are to tackle violence against children in line with the international goals for sustainable development (SDGs) that include a commitment to end all forms of violence against children.

The first of these is the interrelated and co-dependent nature of the goals for sustainable development (SDGs), particularly when we discuss violence against children. Within the context of the SDGs, we cannot hope to adequately address and end violence against children without addressing poverty, health, education, gender, social exclusion or peaceful societies.

Second, fighting violence against children, like the SDGs themselves, cannot be seen as an international agenda that is relevant only for countries outside Europe’s borders. Fifty-five million children a year are victims of violence in Europe, a figure that the Covid-19 pandemic will have further exacerbated. This demonstrates the need for national and local integrated and coordinated strategies to respond to children’s violence in European countries.

Third, shifting the approach towards integrated and holistic systems anchored in the UN CRC that place children at the centre of service design and delivery to respond to the needs of the child.

Breaking the cycle of violence

There are two key steps that must be undertaken to ensure that violence against all children stops of which public social services are an integral part. The first step is to create a paradigm shift towards legislative and policy frameworks anchored to the UN CRC. The second step is to invest in social services and its workforce so that they can be reinforced to improve the way in which they meet the needs of children, work towards changing attitudes to prevent violence, and be able to respond more effectively to incidents as they occur.

At the recent meeting of our working group on the SDGs, , we learned that in France and Scotland this paradigm shift is already underway. However, principles need to be shared across all levels of governance and professionals involved. “We have to make sure everybody shares the same principles to ensure a better understanding and cooperation across sectors,’’ explained Marie-Paule Martin-Blachais, from France’s Child Protection Training School.

Within this paradigm shift, it is crucial to highlight the key role of public social services both in terms of prevention towards societal and family attitudes, as well as the right form of timely interventions. As the statutory body responsible for the protection of children from violence, social services should receive the necessary investment to be equipped with the tools to ensure that the fight against children’s violence is a reality.