The network of European Social Services (ESN) has published its analysis of the Social Protection Committee ’s (SPC) advisory report to the European Commission on Tackling and Preventing Child Poverty, Promoting Child Well-Being. The ESN’s comments focus on access to quality services for children and the extent to which the report has emphasized the need to take their voices into account in public services.
From ESN’s perspective, the Recommendation should champion disadvantaged children, with whom local public social services (ESN’s members) typically have contact. In order to define a text which reflect this priority, ESN has proposed that a number of overarching principles on key services be re-asserted in the Recommendation.
Although these principles seem to be taken for granted in several European Union Member States, the ESN recognises that they rarely seem universally recognised or mainstream in national policy:
• regular strategic assessment of children's needs in a local area;
• structural coordination between services and individual cooperation between professionals;
• a duty for all services to alert child protection authorities in cases of neglect and harm;
• quality monitoring and continuous improvement based on outcomes in children's lives;
• accessibility of services to minority ethnic groups;
• accessibility of services to children from a disadvantaged background;
• a legal requirement to listen to the child, which should be acknowledged by all agencies.
The ESN would have liked to see a greater emphasis on the role of early childhood education and care (ECEC) services in identifying children and families with additional needs or facing particular problems, including risks of child neglect or abuse, and the need to have mechanisms in place so that they can then ensure that specialist services are alerted and help is provided. The ESN welcomed the affirmation that ECEC access should not be dependent on income, and that families from disadvantaged backgrounds should be encouraged to access these services and not stigmatised. Furthermore, ECEC services should be capable of identifying children and families with additional needs or facing particular problems, including risks of child neglect or abuse, and work with specialist services providing support.
Likewise, the ESN welcomes the SPC call to prevent segregated school settings, since the ESN believes that schools should enable every child to progress in mainstream education respecting the child’s needs and wishes, in which local authorities play an important role. Furthermore, the ESN recommends the Commission document considers the education system as part of the early intervention mechanism, in which besides teaching, attention is paid to the health, social and emotional needs of children. To do so, there should be greater involvement of health, social services and education services. Educators and teachers should be trained to recognise the early signs of distress and have access to professional advice from specialist social services.
Regarding access to health services and reducing health inequalities, the ESN suggests that particular support is given to two groups of disadvantaged children who have been identified by social services as having particular access difficulties: children from poorer socio-economic backgrounds and children from ethnic minorities (particularly Roma and travellers). These children may need additional support to ensure they have adequate health care, requiring the cooperation of health and social professionals working with these groups. The ESN has emphasised that there is a need for a strong cultural adaptation for local health and social services in order to develop a clear understanding of cultural and migration needs.
The ESN believes that the provision of affordable housing for families on low incomes is one one way to raise quality standards and help young parents and low-income families facing multiple disadvantages. In regards to territorial planning, noting that the concentration of disadvantage leads to problems, there could be a requirement to plan a certain percentage of affordable housing in housing programmes, both public and private. The ESN would like to add to the Recommendation that the planning approach should also pay attention to designing “child friendly infrastructure” when planning public spaces, in which not only key public services are in place but there is also access to leisure, culture, sports and other facilities.
The ESN believes it is important to talk about children’s right to be heard specifically in the area of child protection. Therefore, the ESN suggests the Commission’s Recommendation specifically recognises that the voice of the child must be heard and recorded in decisions concerning his/her future. Finally, ESN believes that the Recommendation should recognise that children in public care and involved in child protection cases should have access to independent legal representation.