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The third peer review of the project ’Investing in Children’s Services, Improving Outcomes’ presented both national and European viewpoints on the implementation of the European Commission’s Recommendation ‘Investing in Children, Breaking the Cycle of Disadvantage’ across five Member States: Hungary, Belgium, Italy, Portugal and Romania.

Implementing the EC Recommendation in the light of the 2015 European Semester

Julius Op De Beke (EC) compared the aims of the Recommendation with the latest EC country reports in the field of children and family services, and highlighted the use of European Structural Funds to implement the Recommendation, since 20% of 80 billion of European Social Funds have been earmarked for social inclusion.

According to the EC’s assessment, overall increasing rates of child poverty are the main challenge for the countries reviewed.

  • For Hungary, challenges include a lack of capacity in childcare and social protection, and a risk of segregation of Roma children in general education.
  • In Belgium, current reforms on active labour market policies and the alleviation of child poverty should take into consideration the high social gradient in the uptake of childcare services, and the acute shortage of childcare capacity.
  • In Italy, there is a fragmented social protection system, large regional differences in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) provision and issues with low work intensity and working poor.
  • In Romania, issues with working poor and children staying behind due to their parents working abroad result in high levels of children still in institutional care.
  • Portugal faces issues with a weakened social protection system and quality of childcare for children aged 0-3.

Albert Fruszina, the Hungarian member of the European Social Policy Network, reviewed some of the general trends regarding access to quality services that are highlighted in their 2014 report. A key trend highlighted by this report is that Member States with high levels of child poverty or social exclusion face the biggest challenge in adapting their governance arrangements, and investing in more effective policies, which is also the case for Hungary.

A proposal for a Quality Framework in Early Childhood Education and Childcare

Nora Milotay (EC) presented a proposal for an ECEC framework, which is intended to serve as a guide for reform at all governmental levels.

The Framework proposes:

  • Affordable and available access to ECEC, enabling 15 hours per week and a place guaranteed.
  • Holistic and flexible educational guidelines and well-qualified workforce.
  • Ethical, coherent and transparent evaluation and monitoring system.
  • Coordinated legislation and funding, supporting progress towards a universal legal entitlement to publicly subsidised or funded ECEC.

Measuring Child Wellbeing

Olivier Thévenon (OECD) looked at cross-country differences for a number of child wellbeing outcomes, and showed that no country pointedly outperformed any other in all dimensions of wellbeing. For instance, child poverty is comparatively high in Hungary, which is partly due to high proportions of children with unemployed parents; but school-environment seems to comparatively favour the wellbeing of Hungarian adolescents. Conversely, child poverty rates are limited in Portugal, while the indicators on the quality of school life are behind the OECD average

In conclusion, alongside labour market activation, evidence suggests that improving access to childcare services should be a policy priority, as this can deliver better outcomes for children and their families.

For more information on this project, please contact ESN Policy Director Alfonso Lara Montero.