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Implementing the European Recommendation Investing in Children at national and local levels

On 15 May the European Social Network (ESN) organised the first peer review of the research project Investing in Children Services, Improving Outcomes in Dublin. This peer review is part of ESN’s contribution to the implementation of the European Commission Recommendation ‘Investing in Children: Breaking the cycle of disadvantage'. The first meeting of this two-year project focused on four countries: Ireland, France, Sweden and Bulgaria. It brought together representatives from national child welfare agencies and directors of children services at local level (members of ESN), national government representatives and services providers. Participants looked at the policy proposals of the EU Recommendation and at national legal and policy frameworks. The aim was to identify gaps that may hinder its implementation and suggest policy proposals for public authorities on how services may need to adapt in response to the Recommendation.

The event was opened by Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Children and Youth from Ireland, who explained the changes that are currently taking place in Ireland in the area of child welfare and child protection. She also described the legal changes that were brought to the Constitution to make sure that children have rights of their own as individuals (rather than only within the family) and touched upon the issue of direct cash payments versus building services infrastructure: “A significant amount of direct cash payments has been made in Ireland, but there has been a lack of evidence as to whether this was the right approach. Now direct cash payments have been reduced to 3 billion Euro as opposed to 270 billion Euro dedicated to building services infrastructure; particularly, more accessible and more affordable subsidised child care is needed, since evidence shows that this type of investment yields far long term return.”

Julius Op de Beke, Policy Analyst at DG Employment at the European Commission, argued for the Recommendation from an economic point of view, as “without the necessary investment in children’s upbringing and education, many will, as adults, not be able to live up to their full potential; this could undermine the prosperity of the next generations of Europeans.” In terms of services, Mr Op de Beke argued that “children need access to services that play an essential role in their development, such as early childhood education and care, health or housing services”, and defined some of the ways the Commission is pursuing implementation through country specific recommendations for member states and using the EU budget for 2014-2020 to provide co-funding opportunities for social investment in children and to trigger national policy change.

Also in the morning session, delegates listened to presentations from the four different countries which gave an overview of the national legal and policy frameworks in terms of access to early child care, education, health, housing and child protection services. The country profiles and presentations are available in the Members’ Area.