ESN Peer Review Investing in Children Services, Improving Outcomes

The second peer review of the European Social Network (ESN) project Investing in Children Services, Improving Outcomes took place in Barcelona on 5th of June and brought together representatives from national, regional and local government, public and not-for-profit children services from Catalonia in Spain, Scotland in the UK, Germany, Poland and the Netherlands.

The second and third sessions of the meeting reviewed the organisation of children services and identified gaps in services provision across the five countries. Some highlights below:

Catalonia

Jordi Muner, Head of Services Evaluation at the Directorate General for Children and Adolescents of the Ministry of Social Welfare and Family, presented a complex picture of the situation in Catalonia. The budget for social policies has been reduced 20% since the beginning of the crisis, whilst child poverty has increased during the crisis to more than 25%. As a result, there has been a need to undertake an integrated approach to the development of children and family policies, while reducing some universal benefits and introducing more targeted allowances. Representatives from the local level raised concerns about the level of cuts in early childcare services provided by the municipalities, particularly in the 0-3 age range.

The Netherlands

Caroline Vink, Senior Adviser at the Youth Institute, explained the new child care reform and its implications for services provision. An important driver for reform has been the increase in the use of care, with national demand for services rising by approximately 10% every year. Under the slogan “One family, one plan”, Dutch municipalities will be given the statutory duty to provide children with support within their available resources. Whilst the system is moving towards a more family-based approach, this will mean that families will also receive different services, which may trigger complaints.

Poland

Sergo Kuruliszwili, Director of the Institute for the Development of Social Services, outlined two main challenges for children services provision in Poland: the impact of demographic change on service demand and the lack of public investment. A significantly higher proportion of Poland’s GDP is directed towards elderly services over children services; this form of ‘intergenerational inequity’ in the welfare system can have long term consequences. Whilst there has been progress in subsidising early childcare centres to increase parental employment and local health programmes for children with disabilities (complementing programmes in the public health system), there is a still lack of clarity as to which governmental level is responsible for the provision of children services and mechanisms to implement an effective cooperation across sectors and professionals.

Germany

Reka Fazekas, Policy Analyst at the Department for Children, Families and Youth of the Association for Public and Private Welfare (Deutscher Verein), outlined the fragmentation that exists in Germany concerning legislation, policy and practical implementation of children services. According to federal law, youth offices within local authorities are responsible for the organisation of children services. Within the youth offices, there are youth services committees composed of representatives from youth organisations, service providers and local authorities. The youth offices plan and fund a wide variety of services, including youth work, social work, education and day care. The leading role of local authorities in child protection cases and the organisation of guardianship are currently under debate because of high numbers of children allocated to one guardian, the lack of personal contact between children and their guardians and the inclusion of guardians in the youth authority.

Scotland

Philip Raines, Head of the Better Life Chances Unit at the Children’s Rights and Wellbeing Division of the Scottish Government, spoke of three key principles guiding their child policy – early intervention, multi-agency work and taking a child-centred approach. He argued that it was essential to plan according to the identified needs, find the right cooperation structures and ensure that all actions are driven by the child’s wellbeing, with children having access to a designated professional acting as a single point of contact and a single child’s plan. However, it was acknowledged that social services have been unable to respond adequately to reports of child sexual exploitation and the need to do more in terms of raising awareness.

Closing the session, ESN’s Policy Director Alfonso Lara Montero highlighted that “the economic crisis has impacted the landscape within which services are delivered with reduced budgets against increased pressures. In these situations, we have seen an increasing need for independent institutions that ensure that quality standards are observed. It is clear from the different presentations that there is a strong case for investing in children services and some ESN members have already been able to quantify the return, as it is the case in Scotland, where for every £ spent in the 0-3 age range an estimated social return of £9 can be achieved later on.”

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