Eurochild, an NGO dedicated to children’s interests across the EU, hosted its sixth annual conference in Limassol, Cyprus on 11-12 November 2009. This year’s event was entitled “Monitoring child wellbeing: better policy and practice”. The critical issue brought together figures including EU Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner Vladimir Spidla, as well as government representatives, researchers, civil society representatives and young people.
Collecting data on child well-being is difficult and many aspects are not readily quantifiable. A headline statistic is that 20% of children in the EU are at risk of poverty. A key to addressing this problem lies in developing data collection and monitoring related to poverty’s causes and consequences.
Many conference participants called for commonly agreed indicators on poverty and social exclusion at EU level. Consistent use of terminology and data collection were also identified as critical to improving comparability of information.
As well as feeding into changes and new approaches to policy-making, indicators can also be used to “prove the outcomes” of successful practices, in the words of Eric Marlier, of the Luxembourg-based CEPS/INSTEAD Research Institute.
Indicators can help to highlight the situation of children but it often remains difficult for them to make their voice heard. Several participants – including István György Tóth of the TARKI Social Research Institute – emphasised that indicators need to take better account of children’s own perceptions, priorities and approaches to their problems, which are often different to that of an adult.
Children can give valuable input more directly. Cypriot Labour Minister Sotiroula Charalambous referred to the creation of a children’s parliament in her country. Young people were also invited to address their concerns to the Eurochild conference.
Children are often more at risk of poverty than adults: twice as much in Cyprus, for example. Factors increasing the risk were discussed particularly in the conference workshops: migrants, Roma, single parent or large families, drug/alcohol dependency and disability. It was broadly agreed that further work on indicators is needed to help better understand the difficulties and approaches needed for vulnerable groups.
Workshops also provided an opportunity to share good practice. A visit to a first childcare centre for working mothers also gave participants the chance to gain first-hand insight to this initiative in Limassol.
Several participants expressed the view that financial cuts to family services are shortsighted. Eurochild President Catriona Williams referred to the financial crisis, calling for “sufficient investment in young children to ensure that they reach their full potential”.
The conference took place just weeks before the launch the 2010 European Year to combat poverty and social exclusion. Speakers from the Spanish and Belgian governments – which will hold the rotating EU Presidency during the Year - concluded the conference by making a commitment to develop an EU recommendation on child wellbeing and the fight against poverty by the end of 2010.