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In 2020, the World Health Organization estimated that at least 55 million children in Europe suffered some form of physical, sexual, emotional or psychological violence, with 12% of children in the WHO European Region experiencing this in the past 12 months.

Social services are crucial in protecting children from violence; however, they cannot work alone.

As services have become more specialised, responsibilities have spread across several agencies. In many cases, public and private sector entities have evolved into "silos" where they are experts in their own fields, and people using their services need to adapt to their structures rather than tailoring provision to the needs of people. This fragmentation of social services, including child protection services, prevents an effective approach to preventing violence against children and generates significant human and financial costs.

Public social services with statutory responsibility for child protection belonging to the European Social Network (ESN) have long expressed the need to be aware of the knowledge and skill gaps of the child protection workforce. A well-trained and resourced workforce is crucial for them to work in accordance with international standards on addressing violence against children (VAC). That is why ESN is leading a new EU co-funded project -  ‘Side by Side: Reinforcing integrated child protection services.

The project, which was launched at a meeting on 18-19 April, aims at reinforcing national child protection services by identifying the training needs of child protection professionals and the most effective integrated mechanisms within social services to prevent violence against children.

Over the course of the project, ESN and five partners in four European countries will:

  • raise awareness of existing good practices on integrated VAC prevention models;
  • foster information exchange and dialogue between the representatives of public social services with statutory responsibility for child protection;
  • spread the use of good practice and discuss synergies and possible transnational cooperation;
  • assess the training needs of child protection practitioners to increase their capacity to act in line with international and EU standards on preventing VAC.

The ‘Side by Side’ project will involve study visits in France, Ireland, Austria, and Italy to review national practice. Bringing together child protection professionals from across Europe, the study visits will contribute to research on integrated VAC prevention models in Europe, through the identification of key challenges and solutions to improve child protection services for policymakers, practitioners and researchers.

The first study visit will take place in Ireland in September to assess a case co-ordination process put in place by Tusla, the Irish Child and Family Agency, for families who require an initial multi-support intervention response. Also in the autumn, the second visit will take place at the Département du Nord (France), where delegates will learn about the integration of prevention services and child abuse detection services from a universal approach of a medical check-up for all children at the age of 4, to medico-judicial child care units. Visits will also take place to the City of Graz, Austria to look at their “social space orientation” programme, which provides co-ordinated and integrated support to people in vulnerable situations; and Trento in Italy to look at the practical implementation of the SOS Children’s Villages project, “Applying Safe Behaviours,” which aims to identify and prevent peer-on-peer violence.

‘When strong integrated child protection systems come together, we can see ‘one-stop solutions, with multi-sectoral teams providing tailored support for vulnerable children and families’ said Elona Bokshi, ESN Policy Manager.

Public social services have a statutory duty to protect all children from violence, but this duty transcends social services and applies to all public services working with children. Through this project, ESN aims to continue this longstanding cross-cutting work such as our project "Investing in Children's Services" to build up integrated child protections systems to end violence against children.


Further reading

Ending Violence Against Children - Public Social Services Role in implementing the SDGs

Breaking the cycle of violence against children

Protecting children in times of crisis

Investing in Children's Outcomes, Improving Services