Day 1 saw ESN members discussed key issues identified in the study with a view to planning future ESN work. Day 2 witnessed the official launch of the publication at an event hosted by Nathalie Griesbeck MEP at the European Parliament.
Opening the event at the Parliament, Ms Griesbeck reminded the audience that meetings like this bring local expertise in managing, financing, implementing and evaluating services are not frequently brought up at the European Parliament. According to Hugh Frazer, European Social Policy Network Coordinator, “there was a risk that not enough weight would be given to the services pillar of the Commission’s Recommendation; with this work, the gap has now been filled”. “This is probably the most comprehensive report on cross-comparison of children’s policies and services in Europe today”, said Caroline Vink from the Netherlands Youth Institute, who spoke about the decentralisation of children’s services in her country.
The Commission’s Recommendation recognises the role of family support and the development of community-based services for children and families as crucial elements of alternative care. The issues in children’s services addressed on day 1 focused on child protection reform to promote stability and permanence for children in care as well as the situation of unaccompanied children in Europe, a group at a higher risk of poverty and social exclusion. On day 2, participants heard about international evidence on the crucial role of the early years in people’s development and the role of integrated child protection services in improving outcomes for children.
With local authorities increasingly under financial pressure and the need to demonstrate ‘economic gains’ from policy implementation, discussions focused on the strengths and gaps identified in the study as the basis for moving forward. The gaps identified were the under-representation of poor families in early childcare services and the need to reinforce professional expertise, improve coordination and service evaluation to ensure equal access to children’s services. The need to shift the evaluation process from an outputs focus, which is usually requested by national government and the EU (e.g. on EU Structural Funds expenditure) to an outcomes-focused one was addressed.
The development of an integrated approach within children’s services was also highlighted as a need in order to advance outcomes for children. For instance, the audience heard about a new initiative in Romania is developing an integrated package of children's services, consisting of financial benefits and basic community-based services.
Recently there has been an increase in interest on frameworks and strategies focused on outcomes. Therefore, there is an opportunity for public children’s services to assess success not only on the basis of outputs, which could be misleading, and focus on long-term outcomes. The impact of a service should not only look at the child but also at the relevant stakeholders –siblings, parents/carers and the wider community. As a result, policies and services for children should include social, environmental and economic objectives. Joint children’s services management and delivery, together with the improvement of our measurement systems, could support this process to ensure that no child is left behind.