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To mark World Children’s Day, the European Parliament voted for two resolutions calling for the strengthening the EU Child Guarantee and reducing inequalities in times of crisis for children and their families. In the reports, Members of the European Parliament plead for a life-cycle approach to help break the vicious circle of poverty, including integrated social, educational and employment services, and are proposing the setup of an EU body to monitor EU Member States’ progress in delivering the EU Child Guarantee.

An integrated strategy to tackle inequalities in childhood

“Around 25% of children in the EU live at risk of poverty and social exclusion. It is key to invest in universal, public and quality services, as well as to ensure job security, fair incomes and parental rights.” said Sandra Pereira, European Parliament rapporteur of the report taking stock of the EU Child Guarantee two years after its adoption. -. Her report calls on the European Commission and EU Member States to make the widest possible use of the Child Guarantee to facilitate the social inclusion of children suffering from poverty and exclusion.

It also calls for the development of an integrated strategy to tackle childhood inequalities with the provision of child protection and family welfare services, and a significant increase in public investment that impacts children’s lives. According to ESN, the Child Guarantee is a key step forward in fighting child poverty, but it should have a stronger focus on the most vulnerable children  such as those in the child protection system. Indeed, the second adopted report on reducing inequalities in times of crisis for children and their families, states that an estimated 345 000 children in the EU still live in institutions. This is a key point to address as institutionalised care for children has negative impact on their development, health and well being.

A recent large scale study in England revealed that state care-experienced children were disproportionately more likely to become involved in the  youth justice system. An ongoing long-term study conducted by the Bucharest Early Intervention Project analysing the wellbeing of over 130 children in state care in Romania over a span of 16 years, found that children and adolescents who grew up in institutionalised state care have lower health and social wellbeing outcomes than children who grow up in quality foster care settings. A recent study conducted in Flanders (Belgium) among 270 adolescents in the Flemish child protection system, produced similar results, finding that residential care was a key determinant in their perceived low quality of life. This clearly shows that more attention should be paid to child protection to break this cycle of poverty and exclusion.

Towards a more effective child guarantee with a European children’s authority

In its adopted report ‘Children first - strengthening the Child guarantee, two years on from its adoption,’ the European Parliament calls for the set-up of a European children’s authority. “In order to measure the impact of the EU Child Guarantee, we need better monitoring mechanisms, with clear indicators and an official EU body to monitor those indicators”, said Dragos Pislaru, Chair of the working group in the European Parliament that monitors the Child Guarantee, at an ESN meeting on 6 November.

EU agency Eurofound has also recently made a similar proposal  to measure the impact of the Child Guarantee. This proposal includes indicators such as children at risk of poverty and social exclusion or access to early childhood education and care. If the scope of the Child Guarantee could be expanded to guarantee children’s access to alternative care - as ESN has suggested – more indicators should included, such as access to alternative and foster care. Progress on such indicators is currently measured by ESN through our recently launched European Social Services Index that gathers annual data on access to social services for different populations, including children, in nine countries.

ESN CEO Alfonso Lara Montero said at the 2023 meeting that launched the Index: “To ensure progress, we need to gather evidence on people’s access to social services, including vulnerable populations such as children in state care.” A future European children’s authority should support such evidence gathering, to break the cycle of poverty and exclusion for the most vulnerable children with whom social services work on a daily basis.