Investing in children

On 20 February the Commission published its Recommendation entitled “Investing in children: breaking the cycle of disadvantage”, which forms part of the Social Investment Package (SIP).

The Recommendation highlights some of the principles ESN has been advocating for in its work on child welfare issues. In the Recommendation, the Commission recognises that “tackling disadvantage in the early years is an important means of stepping up efforts to address poverty and social exclusion” and that “prevention through integrated strategies that combine support to parents, adequate income and access to services are essential to children’s outcomes.” This goes hand in hand with the arguments presented by ESN back in April 2010 in its report “Breaking the cycle of deprivation” in which the members of ESN’s working group on children and families underlined that “investing in local public social services that care and support vulnerable children is key to breaking the cycle of deprivation.”

With regards to the role of social services, ESN welcomes the Commission’s emphasis on encouraging the participation of children from disadvantaged backgrounds in early childhood education and childcare. These services work as early warning mechanisms for those with specific needs, as suggested by ESN in its position paper and assessment of the Social Protection Committee advisory report published in 2012. In both documents, ESN emphasised that the Commission’s Recommendation should address the obstacles faced by the most disadvantaged children as the Recommendation does. However, ESN would have liked to see a greater encouragement to cooperation between health and social services working with children in vulnerable situations.

ESN agrees with the Recommendation’s call for social services to adopt a preventative approach. However, ESN reiterates that local public social services already provide family and parenting support services based on an assessment of needs. Unfortunately, the Commission has not taken on board the suggestion made by the SPC and children services professionals that investing in such services is essential to lift children out of poverty.

ESN finds it deeply regrettable that the Recommendation lacks a clear and specific reference to the need to have in place a good system of alert, referral and assessment for children at risk of abuse and neglect. Instead, it focuses on a legitimate but very narrow concern in a small number of countries about avoiding the removal of children from families solely on grounds of a low income. It is, however, positive that the Commission supports community-based and family-like solutions in alternative care over large-scale institutions.

ESN will publish a more detailed analysis of the Recommendation in the coming month and will organise an analytical and peer review exercise with children welfare services from various countries and the Irish government to present policy proposals that can help implementing the Recommendation at national level.