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Child poverty is an enduring problem that should be a matter of priority for policymakers. In the European Union, nearly one in four children faces the risk of poverty or social exclusion, according to EurostatAt the same time, children in poverty are exposed to a higher risk of violence and abuse.

The eradication of child poverty and the successful implementation of the European Child Guarantee, therefore, demands investments in children's well-being that would ensure every child has access to services and programmes outlined in the European Child Guarantee. Against this backdrop, it is welcome that in the year ahead, the EU is promoting efforts to protect children from poverty, violence, and abuse.

All European Child Guarantee National Action Plans released

In June 2021, the European Council approved a Recommendation establishing the European Child Guarantee (ECG) with the objective of preventing and combatting social exclusion by guaranteeing effective access of children in need to a set of key services such as free early childhood education and care, free education, free healthcare, healthy nutrition, and adequate housing. In December 2023, the last national action plan was submitted, marking a significant milestone in the implementation of the ECG. Now, with the path cleared, Member States are expected to deliver their first report on implementation progress in the Spring 2024.

The European Social Network (ESN) carefully read the Member States' National Action Plans (NAPs) and found a shared understanding of the critical need to support children in alternative care. Notably, Hungary's action plan includes measures to foster parent care and involves children in decisions affecting them. Similarly, Slovenia and Belgium recognise the significance of community-based care over institutional care, aiming to transition children to quality family-based settings. 

Monitoring the Progress of the European Child Guarantee

To measure progress in the implementation of the ECG, the European Commission introduced, in early January 2024, a framework to assess children's access to the services covered by the Guarantee. It is based on a set of statistical indicators, such as the number of children in alternative care, broken down by care type, and the share of children in residential care out of the number of children in alternative care. This indicator is central to measuring progress in the integration of children into communities and wider society to avoid segregation and social exclusion.

Upcoming Council Recommendations on Integrated Child Protection Systems

Another important legislative file regarding children’s rights is currently in preparation at the Directorate General of Justice. Child protection services are being encouraged to adopt a holistic and more integrated approach that places the best interests of the child at its core.

Key challenges are highlighted in both the call for evidence and consultationessential components of the Council Recommendation. The challenges include fragmented approaches to child protection, gaps in targeted prevention and early identification policies and a lack of child participation. They also reference a dearth of clarity when it comes to the roles and responsibilities of professionals working in the area of child protection, as well as a pressing need for best practices. By learning from each other's experiences and successes, stakeholders can work towards implementing more comprehensive and impactful solutions to safeguard the rights and well-being of children.

Significantly, in order to address these challenges, the Commission will issue a recommendation for integrated child protection this spring. In light of this, ESN’s upcoming annual seminar, scheduled to take place in September in Bucharest, Romania, will gather best practices of integrated child protection and provide practical guidance for national, regional and local authorities on how they can foster collaboration across services for better protection of vulnerable children. It will be a joint effort aimed at promoting coordination between universal and specialist services, thus bridging national and European initiatives, such as the European Child Guarantee and Child Protection Recommendation.