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The European Child Guarantee (ECG), established by the Council of the European Union in 2021, aims to “prevent and combat social exclusion by guaranteeing access of children in need to a set of key services” such as free and quality education, healthcare and adequate housing.

A significant number of these services are provided at regional and local levels by public social services who have a pivotal role in protecting children, as highlighted by the European Commission (EC) in its 2024 recommendation on developing and strengthening integrated child protection systems in the best interests of the child. In addition to considering the particular needs of different categories of vulnerable children, including those in precarious family situations or placed in alternative care, regional and local social services also have a better understanding of the risks and challenges these children encounter within their specific region and community.

Yet, time and time again, representatives from public social services in regional and local authorities are not included in EU-level discussions concerning the implementation of EU principles and policy proposals for which they’re ultimately responsible, despite the European Social Network (ESN) identifying this as a key reason for inadequate implementation. For instance, it is questionable that they were not invited to attend the “European Child Guarantee: from engagement to reality” conference that took place in Brussels on 2 and 3 May 2024, within the context of the Belgian presidency of the Council of the European Union.

The Belgian presidency’s prioritisation of the EU social agenda is commendable. However, its efforts can only be translated into reality if regional and local children’s social services are empowered to contribute to the discussion. With their first-hand knowledge of the regional and local incentives to the full implementation of the ECG, they have a huge contribution to make.

ESN’s position is in line with the European Committee of the Regions’ 2024 opinion on improving the social inclusion of children by implementing the European Child Guarantee at local and regional level. This calls on Member States to partner with all relevant stakeholders in the carrying out of the measures set out in their national action plans, including public authorities in charge of service provision.

Furthermore, for Member States to abide by EU recommendations, those delivering social services must be first aware of these. Unfortunately, though, a recent ESN survey found that only 23% of local children’s services professionals have a satisfactory knowledge of the European Child Guarantee, and less than 20% have a satisfactory knowledge of the European Commission’s recommendation on integrated child protection.

Involving representatives from regional and local public social services in events such as the Belgian presidency’s conference is a starting point in ensuring they are not only aware but can shape the conversation around implementation and exchange knowledge of initiatives where children in complex situations are supported in an integrated manner.

In Belgium, for instance, the whole of Flanders follows the same methodology when working with children and young people in need: through its “1G1P” (one family, one plan) framework, local authorities and organisations work in partnership to ensure prompt, intersectional and coordinated support. Similarly, EU institutions and national governments should not be working in isolation from regional and local public social services.

Following through on its own recognition of “the importance of coordination and communication for the effective implementation of the Child Guarantee”, the Belgian presidency, as well as those to come, must not forget to engage regional and local public social services working with children. They are, after all, essential in protecting children and knowing whether and how the ECG can become a reality.