On 19th March 2012, Copenhagen was the setting for a conference concerning the prevention of child poverty, and the right for children to grow up under equal terms based on family input, child rights and the provision of high quality children’s services. The conference brought together experts, non-governmental organisations and other stakeholders to address child poverty in European Union (EU) Member States, mainstreaming the child’s rights approach in key policies and access to family support measures, early childhood education and care (ECEC), and child participation in policy formation. The conference was held by the Danish Presidency of the European Council 2012 and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Integration in collaboration with the European Commission and the Intergovernmental Group L’Europe de L' Enfance.
Knowledge-based efforts for socially disadvantaged children in day-care, Denmark
Bente Jensen from Århus University spoke about the importance of ECEC and how the Knowledge-based efforts for socially disadvantaged children in day care (VIDA) project in Denmark may be able to improve it. Jensen outlined how ECEC can change a child’s educational, economic and social life chances. The VIDA project aims to improve children’s learning and wellbeing by applying Dewey’s theory of learning, Rutter’s theory of resilience and Bourdieu’s theory of habitus. It assesses whether this approach can improve the well-being and learning of socially disadvantaged children in day care, and the effect of supplementing such efforts with focused parental involvement. The project also hopes to identify what conditions in the pedagogical environment strengthen the life opportunities of socially disadvantaged children, and establish the significance of teachers’ qualifications for cooperating in a knowledge-based and innovative way.
Child poverty in Europe
Elodie Fazi from the European Commission addressed child poverty from an EU perspective. Fazi highlighted labour market exclusion as the main risk leading to child poverty, although commented that employment does not necessarily prevent poverty, with around 8.5% of workers at risk of poverty in the EU. The role of social transfers was said to be ‘essential’ – reducing child poverty by an average of 40% in the EU. In order to prevent disadvantage spreading across generations, Fazi championed early intervention in education, health, housing, social and child protection services and participation opportunities. Fazi also stressed the importance of EU coordination of Member States’ efforts, stating it has already helped to build a common understanding of the detriments of child poverty and common challenges, raise awareness of policies and programmes that work best and put child poverty on the political agenda.Child participation and effective policy-making
Leda Koursoumba, vice chair of the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children (ENOC) spoke about the importance of child participation as a right in itself and as a means for the realization of other rights. She outlined how child participation is often seen as unimportant in the creation of policy, given that many adopt the attitude that ‘consultation with children is a waste of money, energy and time, a luxury that can’t be afforded’. Koursoumba concluded that for “policy making to be effective [it] should be more than a box-ticking exercise or even a one-off consultation; it should aim to be an in depth investigation of children’s real experiences”.
Review of child participation
Dr. Roberta Ruggiero, Coordinator of ChildONEurope Secretariat, presented a review of child participation policy across Europe. It showed that 18 countries have provisions for child participation in different laws, three do not have any provision in place and one did not answer. Of the countries that do cover child participation, there are 10 laws for promotion and 16 laws for protection.
Deputy Permanent Secretary for Social Affairs and Integration, Mr. Jesper Brask Fischer outlined the policy priorities highlighted by the conference. These included the need to ensure proper social protection through well described and well evaluated programmes in order to ensure vulnerable children and families profit from the help and support they are given, early identification of families and children at risk, the recognition of the role of the family and the need of family and network support in matters of the social protection of vulnerable children and the provision of adequate and well designed family-benefits with access to social services. He also stated that professional frontline staff in schools and early childcare must play an important role in early intervention and prevention programmes.