The European Network of Independent Experts on Social Inclusion was asked to prepare country reports for the 28 EU Member States (MS) on the implementation of the Commission Recommendation on Investing in Children: Breaking the cycle of disadvantage (the Recommendation). The reports set out what experts see as the priorities for action in each Member State and aim to assist the Commission and EU Member States in the implementation and monitoring of the Recommendation. The synthesis report puts forward a series of suggestions for improving the implementation of the Recommendation on EU and national level drawing on the main findings of the country reports. All 28 reports and a synthesis report are now available online.
One of the key findings from the synthesis report is that while improvements can be identified in all countries, MS with higher levels of child poverty or social exclusion seem to face more of challenge in adapting policies and invest in more effective measures. Furthermore, the policy areas suggested in the Recommendation seem to be effective in order to address child poverty and improve child well being given that those countries performing best in promoting the social inclusion and well-being of children seem to have already in place many of the policy measures included in the Recommendation.
Families are disproportionally affected by the economic and financial crisis with national governments insufficiently taking into account the impact of austerity measures on children and their families in many countries. While the Recommendation promotes a long-term approach of investing in children services for children and their families, cut backs of support tend to have a short-term approach leading to a lack of access to adequate income, protection and services for these groups when they are most needed. Furthermore when it comes to implementing the Europe 2020 strategy promoting social inclusion and well-being of children has received rather limited priority in most MS. As an emerging area the situation of ethnic minorities and children with disabilities received some increased attention across countries given that these groups were more severely hit by the crisis. Overall the EU funds are already significantly utilised in supporting measures targeted at children facing the most severe levels of child poverty or social exclusion. However, in many countries funds could be used more strategically indicating that in the next Programming period, EU Funds can play a central role in assisting the implement of the Recommendation.
The synthesis report lists a set of key recommendations such as integrating the Recommendation into Europe 2020 which would require for example MS to include key priorities for implementing the Recommendation in their National Reform Programs and setting an EU child poverty and social exclusion target as part of the overall Europe 2020 poverty and social exclusion target. In order to further integrate investing in children into EU policy-making child well-being could be promoted as an element of the social dimension of the Economic and Monetary Union, as well as making it a core element of the Social Open Method of Coordination (OMC). Furthermore EU institutions and MS could assess the ex-ante and ex-post impact of packages and austerity measures on children and their families which would lead to a ‘child proofing’ of austerity policies. The synthesis report also highlights in weaknesses in evidence-based policy making in several countries and suggests providing more encompassing and timely data in child well-being and child poverty. The authors also identified the critical role that EU Funds can have for the implementation of the Recommendation, in particular the Structural Funds which could be used to support social inclusion measures in the next programming phase.
One of the key Recommendations with regard to European Platform for Investing in Children (EPIC) is targeted at enhancing the exchange of learning and good practice. EPIC is seen as a relevant step by the European Commission to support the implementation of the Recommendation through enhanced exchange and learning on effective policies and practices on MS level. EPIC’s collection of Evidence-Based Practices aims at providing a comprehensive picture of the most effective practices being used throughout the European Union. The authors of the synthesis report suggests further options for example that the Knowledge Bank as part of the Social Investment Package (SIP) prioritises issues of child poverty and social exclusion and is linked up to the EPIC; giving the European Social Policy Network a role in reporting on the progress on implementing the Recommendation; as well as enhanced mutual learning for a cluster of MS that face similar challenges.