Public social services in all 27 EU member states not only have a commitment to break the cycle of disadvantage for vulnerable children, they have child protection at the core of their work. The European Social Network (ESN) has consistently emphasised the importance of public social services being included as a central partner in the building and implementation of the Child Guarantee, which aims to ensure every child in the EU at risk of poverty or social exclusion has access to the most basic of rights like healthcare and education.

This was the key message from ESN at the  ‘Child Guarantee – Equal Chances for Every Child’ conference organised by the EU Slovenian Presidency on 9 November. The  discussion focused  on putting the June 2021 recommendations adopted by EU social policy Ministers (the EPSCO Council) on the European Child Guarantee into practice and how member states can prepare follow-up measures to provide children across the EU with equal opportunities.

ESN speaking at the conference

We were pleased to be represented in this conference by our ESN member, the region of Galicia, who presented their support programme, which assists children in need through its coordination framework for services for people at risk of eviction.

Alfonso Lara Montero, Chief Executive Officer of ESN, stressed that the participation of local and regional social services working with children is key to the successful implementation of the Child Guarantee and in line with the recommendations.

While agreeing that there is a need for targeted initiatives for the most vulnerable children, Mr Lara Montero emphasized that this does not mean that initiatives need to focus only on specific programmes or on particular vulnerable groups. Different social services should be integrated to meet the best needs of children requiring support.

Bringing a holistic approach to child protection

A new ESN report shows that a holistic approach to coordinating different services is much more beneficial. This report provides an overview of relevant principles, initiatives, and practices across different European countries on cooperation between social services and education, health, and employment to support children and youth social inclusion.

Examples of this approach have been highlighted in ESN reports on children and integrated services. For example, the model of integrated family centres implemented by local authorities in Finland, many of them members of ESN, focuses on ensuring joint access to health and education for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.  The GO Teams in Flanders support children and their families across a range of matters: lack of adequate housing, unemployment, low school attendance, substance abuse, hygiene problems, and debt. Social workers act as reference worker for these families and 88% of them have experienced improvement in their circumstances across a range of indicators.

Finally, immediate action is needed to tackle the difficulties facing vulnerable children in institutional care. The evidence shows that the number of children in care is increasing. Integrated child protection support is therefore even more vital and should be supported by EU and national funds. And while aiming for family care for all children, it is important to distinguish between institutional and quality residential care.

Conclusion

ESN is pleased that the EU Council Presidencies have so far made the implementation of the Child Guarantee a priority in their working programmes through the creation of National Child Guarantee Action Plans and the recent appointment of National Coordinators who will be responsible for their implementation. We will continue to bring the voice of our members and their good practices to discussions under future EU Presidencies.

One of the pillars of ESN’s work is preventing and combatting the social exclusion of children by guaranteeing children in need access to key services. Therefore, ESN will monitor the implementation of the Child Guarantee in the European Semester and contribute to the country-specific reports and recommendations to ensure the best implementation of the Child Guarantee Action Plans during 2022.