On day 1 of the event where the European Social Network (ESN) officially launched its study ‘Investing in children’s services, improving outcomes’ discussions focused on child protection reform and the provision of support for unaccompanied children. The Commission’s Recommendation recognises the role of family support and the development of community-based services for children and families as key principles. Across most countries involved in the study, child protection reform has been implemented first with the aim to promote an integrated and preventative approach, and second to ensure that children are provided with stability if they are placed outside their family.
The audience listened to the process in Bulgaria, where de-institutionalisation reform has seen the closure of more than 80 institutions (out of 137), the construction of small homes, and training of professional foster carers for more than 1500 children. The audience also heard from colleagues in
The Netherlands, where due to the increase in mental health problems and child protection cases, a shift to decentralised prevention has been implemented for the past year and a half around the principle ‘one family, one plan, one coordinator’. Though it is difficult to establish a cause-effect relationship, initial figures seem to show that there has been a reduction in the numbers of children in care.
In Scotland, the ‘Getting it Right for Every Child’ framework includes key principles on early intervention, a named person and a single plan for each child. However, to ensure stability it is key to bring all stakeholders (local authorities, health, education, social services, the police) around the table. With this in mind, a pilot project was undertaken with two local authorities and will now be rolled across all 32 Scottish authorities with support from the Scottish government.
On the first day, the audience also heard about the situation of unaccompanied children in Europe, a group at a higher risk of poverty and social exclusion. The Commission’s Recommendation recognises the right to access healthcare for undocumented children and the need to support them to ensure their integration in school. Participants learned about the social inclusion pathway for unaccompanied children implemented by Pas de Calais County Council, which in addition to literacy, schooling and support to help unaccompanied children to regularize their situation, includes ways to prepare these children for different forms of racism that they may unfortunately suffer during the process.
The number of unaccompanied children who arrived in Sweden increased by 5 between 2014 and 2015. In total, 35,369 unaccompanied children came to Sweden in 2015 whilst only 4000 asylum cases were resolved. All Swedish municipalities have been required by the national government to take a specific number of unaccompanied children. According to Graham Owen, National Association of Directors of Social Services, with local social services responsible for unaccompanied children’s protection and care, these services have had to ‘play catch up’ to cope with this massive increase. In addition to conducting needs assessments and sourcing placements, these children require specific support to cope with sleeping problems or traumatic experiences. They may also need to access specific support in schools. In a short period of time, local social services have had to expand residential accommodation and engage with the community and the voluntary sector to find additional placements. In addition, a People’s Council was set up to promote good practice and listen to children’s needs and concerns.
Child protection is a decentralised matter and in most countries analysed by ESN’s study the responsibility lies with local authorities’ social services, who assess the needs of children and young people and look after them to prevent any risk or harm. Family support, prevention and the provision of stability for all children have become key principles. However, the realities that local social services may confront, as has been the case with the significant increase in unaccompanied children in some countries, mean that implementation in practice is challenging. This is why new professional profiles have had to be developed and new solutions found that engage the third sector and local communities.