Public social services have a specific, statutory duty to ensure children are protected and can thrive which is why their input on major policy initiatives, including the European Child Guarantee, is crucial. To this end, Alfonso Montero, CEO of the European Social Network (ESN) spoke at a virtual event titled ‘EU solidarity, No Child Left Behind’, co-organised by the Directorate Generals for Social Affairs and Reform of the European Commission on 6 May, on the role of social services in making sure the Child Guarantee achieves its objective to better protect all children.

Challenges to implementing the Child Guarantee

In 2015, the European Parliament introduced a Child Guarantee to support children in poverty, however, its journey has not always been smooth. During the virtual 6 May event, participants from the EU social services sector discussed two of the biggest challenges for delivering the Child Guarantee. The first challenge was how to build EU-wide uniform standards for implementation. Social services experts highlighted the fragmented nature of Member States’ responsibilities in child protection while emphasising the need for an EU-wide model. According to Commissioner Elisa Ferreira, “By sharing good practice, we can coordinate better and make the best of EU Funds”.

The second challenge raised related to the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic has undoubtedly placed extra burdens on the social services sector and has exposed existing weaknesses. For example, during the pandemic we witnessed a rise in violence against children while the closure of important facilities such as schools and mainstream public services, which cut children off from access to vital sources of support.

Responses and suggestions from ESN members

The Child Guarantee has been one of the overarching topics in ESN. ESN members have held in-depth discussions about the challenges faced and made suggestions on how to address them. For example, at our event on COVID-19 and Child Protection on 22 May 2020, ESN members focused on building EU-wide standards, emphasising the need for cross-sectoral cooperation at various governance levels in each country.

When it comes to designing policies related to children, ESN members have also stressed that it is crucial to have cooperation between regional and local authorities, and important that children are consulted.

In response to the Covid-19 crisis, several ESN members suggested at our Social Services and Covid19 webinar on 1 April 2020, actions supporting parents working in essential professions. For example, hiring additional staff and providing necessary resources for children’s education and health.

Three key recommendations from ESN

Following on from the No Child Left Behind event, ESN recommends three specific actions for implementing the Child Guarantee. These are:

  •  Recognising the essential role of public social services to ensure equal opportunities for all children

ESN member, the Department for Social Inclusion of the Regional Government of Galicia (Spain), emphasised that “European funds play a decisive role in promoting social inclusion and effective equal opportunities for children throughout the EU”, explaining the importance of adequate resourcing and funding to fight child poverty and social exclusion.

  • Ensuring access to public social services for the most vulnerable children and families

Children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, often face multiple issues and one service cannot handle every problem. Therefore, we need to ensure professionals understand the available services from other sectors so that they can provide the most appropriate services for children and families in need. According to ESN member, SOS Children’s Villages International: “The Child Guarantee should propose a comprehensive approach to support families in difficulties and provide quality alternative care options tailored to the children’s specific needs”.

  • Investing in public social services to realise the aims and objectives of the Child Guarantee

Sufficient resourcing and funding for the most vulnerable children are vital and should become a priority in National Child Care Plans. ESN member, the Families, Equality & Social Welfare Department at Madrid City Council, stressed that “children in vulnerable situations must be prioritised since they are the main recipients of our services”.

Public social services: building a brighter future for children across the EU

Public social services have made great efforts to demonstrate their role not only in implementing the Child Guarantee but also more broadly for the social and economic recovery in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, even more needs to be done. Speaking at the No Child Left Behind event, ESN’s CEO, Mr. Montero stressed: “We need to prioritise vulnerable children through National Child Care Plans and develop long-term strategies based on preventing problems at an early stage”. As we move forward, ESN is also calling for decision-makers to learn from the crisis and prepare public social services better for the future. Finally, we should remember that economic recovery and social recovery are inseparable for the EU.