In Italy various plans were reconfirmed by the central government last year as important tasks in order to support family life and to invest in children's rights. In fact, although the birth rate remains below the European average, the social and economic needs of children and families, of both Italian and foreign nationality, still receive special attention in policy. Many efforts have been made in the field of foster care, with the improvement of new experimental forms of fostering. The right of children to be heard and to participate is being studied and researched.
A steady increase in female employment (for women aged 15 to 64 years) can be observed (47.1% in 2012, compared to 46.1% in 2010). In 2012 about one in three working women actually had a part-time job, a rate which has tripled in the last twenty years. The increase in the percentage of women in employment can hardly be associated with an improved reconciliation of work and family life, since in the last 40 years there has been a sharp decrease in fertility rates across the country: the average number of children per woman was 1.39 in 2011, below the European average (1.57).
Measures aimed at helping women go back to work after the birth of a child were included in the National Family Plan promoted by the Department for Family Policies and approved in June 2012. The plan stresses the need to invest in children’s education, ensuring equal opportunities to all children: besides cash benefits, special reference is made to different kinds of provisions, based on the assumption that child care must be recognized as an activity of high social value in all families.
The reconciliation of work and family life and the promotion of the educational role of parents have also been encouraged by making early childhood services closer to families. A specific experimental project is the organisation of home nurseries for little groups of young children, in the presence of a mother and of an educator. This project also represents a professional opportunity for mothers. The current debate on this point focuses on mothers’ training and on the maintenance of quality standards in the service. According to the results of a monitoring survey, by the end of 2010, 438 municipalities had initiated the service, with 820 home nurseries working at a national level.
In Italy the percentage of children under 3 years who benefited from "formal care" services - from 1 to 29 hours per week - equals 9% of the total population of the same age. This rate is lower than the European average, but it becomes higher when taking into account an attendance of 3 hours or more (17%). The same trend can be detected in school attendance up to the minimum age of compulsory education: the Italian percentage is indeed higher for the children who benefit from formal childcare for more than 30 hours per week (75% as against 46% in 2011 in Europe).
The Italian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is in line with the European average, as they are respectively € 25,700 and € 25,600. The share of GDP allocated to families and children has been increasing and reached 1.4% in 2011.
Reducing inequality in access to affordable quality services is one of the main objectives of the Third National Action Plan for children. In order to achieve this aim, it is necessary to favour access to services for children belonging to vulnerable families. According to the Plan, the fees charged by nurseries may be cut down through different support mechanisms, discounts or reduced rates, depending on family incomes or economic situations (one-income family, home loan, etc.), but also on several characteristics of children or their families, such as co-attendance of siblings, absences due to illness, disabled children, etc.
In January 2013, the Interministerial Decree of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy with the Ministry of Economy and Finance provided for the experimentation of the new “social card”. The project involves the 12 biggest Italian cities and will last for a year, for an overall investment of €50 million. The economic benefits will be adjusted according to the number of family members.
The National Family Plan set some priorities to be achieved within the regional and local programmes. With respect to access to social benefits, the family income evaluation system has been changed in such a way to favour families. Some steps have been made in order to help families, especially young couples, to buy or rent a house, taking into account the need for more space when families grow due to the birth of children. Some measures have also been taken to support foreign or young families who settle in rural or abandoned areas.
The topic of family support and alternative care settings is one of the main focus areas of the Third National Plan, so it has been specifically monitored within the framework of the plan. The main objectives of the plan are, on the one hand, the promotion of family foster care and the reinforcement of dedicated services and, on the other hand, the provision of parenting support in families at risk and the prevention of child removal from the family. The vast majority of children in foster care has Italian citizenship (more than 8 children in 10), but the percentage of foreign children is particularly significant (16.3%). In proportion, foster care affects more foreigners than Italians.
Another course of action is aimed at detecting the difficulties of families in time, as underlined also in the National Family Plan approved by the Council of Ministers in June 2012, which stressed the need to strengthen the network of family planning services, such as the Family Centres, the family guidance centres, etc.
Among the national projects carried out in Italy, the Action Plan for the Prevention of Institutionalization (P.I.P.P.I.) is a two-year experimental program which provides for multidisciplinary and integrated actions in favour of families with children aged 0-16 at serious risk of being separated. The program involves 10 Italian cities and it is funded through the resources allocated by Law 285 of 1997 (see below). The programme encompasses measures to experiment, assist, support and supervise methodological approaches and processes for the care of families at risk, in order to prevent the separation of children from their parents.
With respect to the children’s right to participate, there are a lot of initiatives, projects and actions in Italy that are being monitored by research centres focusing on children’s rights. One of them is the periodical monitoring of the implementation of Law no. 285 of 28 August 1997, Provisions for the promotion of rights and opportunities for children and adolescents, which created a special national fund to finance measures promoted by local administrations in favour of children and adolescents. The monitoring activities show that in the 2012/2013 period there were a lot of projects (200 out of 448) focusing on the right of children to be heard, which is closely linked to the right to participate. Many of these projects were actually targeted at families having difficulties with child care and they are aimed at improving the family’s network of relations (also with a focus on foreign families), parental skills and access to informal learning, leisure activities, sports and cultural centres for all children, but especially those in disadvantaged conditions.
The information in the country profile was last updated in February 2014.
An experimental project for the social inclusion and integration of Roma, Sinti and Camminanti children, targeted at children aged 6-14 years, at their schools and their families, was launched by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, University and Research, in 2012. The aim was to organize – starting from September 2013 – a cycle of workshops and events in schools, as well as to provide support to families in their living environment and to facilitate interaction with schools, but also access to services. Special national training events have been organized for teachers, professionals and school staff. The project is one of the most important pillars of the "National Strategy for the inclusion of the Roma, Sinti and Camminanti 2012-2020", which was adopted by the Italian Government to implement the European Commission's Communication no. 173/2011.