Below you will find information about recent events, policy initiatives and legal changes intended to support families in Europe.
Cities for Children is a European Network which was first started in 2007 in the City of Stuttgart through support of Rober Bosch Stiftung. The network allows European cities to share more advanced thinking and concepts regarding how an urban environment can promote the happiness and wellbeing of its children, young people and parents. This network consists of 76 cities in total from 32 European countries and is supported by three patrons: the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, the Council of European Municipalities and Regions and the Committee of the Regions support the Network as patrons.
The extreme disadvantage experienced by young people with parents in prison is little recognised in any country, despite the fact that the number of children affected by parental incarceration is estimated to be approximately 800,000 in the EU. In the UK this number exceeds 160 000, higher than those affected by divorce.
A number of reports and statements in 2013 concerning child deaths led to some degree of optimism in various quarters, as progress was recorded in several key areas of this worldwide effort.
For example in September 2013, the UN reported that the number of children dying each year had almost halved between 1990 and 2012, from 12 million to 6.6 million.
In September 2013, the International Labour Organization published its latest report on child labour as part of its report series aiming to estimate global child labour, four years after the previous, 2008 iteration. The estimates suggest that as many of 168 million children worldwide (11% of the world’s child population) are in child labour, and that 85 million are in dangerous work which endangers their health, moral development or safety. The report is structured into four parts which present main figures for the new estimate, before developing on detailed estimates, highlighting trends between 2000-2013 and suggesting future avenues.
New research commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation examines the causal relation between household income and children’s outcomes later in life. The report by Kitty Stewart and Kerris Cooper (Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, London School of Economics and Political Science) consists in a systematic review of the evidence from abroad on a range of social, educational, medical and social and behavioural outcomes for children. One key finding is that money does make a difference to children’s outcomes: the relationship between children’s wealth and their cognitive, health and social-behavioural outcomes goes beyond simple correlation – poorer children do worse in these areas in part because they are poorer.
Throughout the year 2013, several stakeholders and official bodies of the European Union have published reports and made declarations regarding the need to increase the focus on the social dimension of the EU: these are briefly analysed in this article.
In September PICUM launched a Global Campaign to End Child Detention. This campaign was first initiated by the International Detention Coalition which is an overarching umbrella group of over 300 NGOs. The aim of the campaign is to draw together members of civil society in order that they might work alongside and in collaboration with one another to put an end to immigration detention of children.
In 1954, the United Nations General Assembly recommended that all countries institute a Universal Children's Day, to be observed as a day of worldwide fraternity and understanding between children. It recommended that the Day be devoted to promoting the ideals and objectives of the United Nations Charter and the welfare of the children of the world. The date 20 November marks the day on which the Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, in 1959, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in 1989.
For centuries, the Roma have been part of the European cultural landscape. The members of ethnic group are also often the victims of discrimination and prejudice, particularly in times of economic crisis. One example of discrimination prominent in Europe is the segregation of Roma children in public schools.
The celebration of this Day is an important opportunity to acknowledge the efforts and struggles of people living in poverty and a chance to make their concerns heard worldwide. Participation of the poor themselves has been at the centre of the Day's celebration since its very beginning. This year’s theme is “Working together towards a world without discrimination: building on the experience and knowledge of people in extreme poverty”.
At the occasion of the European Semester the European Commission discusses with the Member States their progress towards achieving the targets of the commonly agreed Europe 2020 strategy. During this annual cycle national economic, social and structural reforms are monitored and coordinated. The Semester ends when the Council adopts so called Country Specific Recommendations (CSRs) that were proposed by the Commission. The CSRs aim at a stronger foundation for growth after the crisis and highlight how countries may enhance their growth potential, increase employment opportunities and competitiveness in 2013-2014.
On August 1st Germany introduced the legal right to early childhood support in a day care centre or day nursery. Every child between the age of one and three now has the legal right to this type of support and the German Bundesländer plan is to introduce about 810,000 places for under three year olds in day nurseries, so called Kita’s (Kindertagesstätte). This rights-based approach is very much in line with the European Commission's Recommendation on investing in children, adopted in February earlier this year.
Statistics drawn from Unicef, International Labour Organisation and the World Health Organisation indicate that one in five children in Europe are victims of a form of sexual abuse. It has been also estimated that in 70-85% of circumstances the abuser is a person that the child knows and feels they can trust. With its ONE in FIVE campaign the Council of Europe aims to stop sexual violence against children. One strand of the ONE in FIVE campaign is called The Underwear Rule.
In January 2012, the European Commission launched the Kids’ corner , a special website dedicated to children and young people. The website includes information about children's rights as well as games, quizzes and information about the EU and its Member States. It was first announced in the EU's Agenda for the Rights of the Child to support action to ensure better and more effective information of children about their rights and about relevant EU policies while performing a consolidation and modernisation of existing information tools.
The opening cover of the twice yearly report from the UN depicts children looking directly out to the reader, holding up cameras, as if to take a snapshot of their view out into the world. This cover photograph captures the central essence of this report which is to focus and voice the perspectives of youth today on how they see and view their path in the world in regards to the world after school and entering employment.
In May 2013, UNICEF published its latest report on ‘The State of the World’s Children’, which this year focused on children with disabilities. Based on statistical evidence from around the world, the report combines an analysis of the current situation and an agenda for action. It also includes several unique ‘perspective’ articles, from individuals with a range of experiences on this issue.
On 3rd June 2013, the European Commission released a progress report on the Barcelona objectives, agreed in 2002, to improve the provision of childcare facilities.
Key findings for 2010 show that only eight Member States have met the targets set by the Barcelona European Council, which state that childcare should be provided for 90% of children between three years old and the mandatory school age, and for 33% of children under three. The report seeks to re-emphasise the importance of increasing accessibility to childcare, as a means of early investment in human capital but also in order to promote women’s employment.
In April 2013, the OECD published a 600 page report on the evaluation and assessment of students in primary and secondary schools. The experience of 28 OECD countries is analysed with a focus on student assessment, teacher appraisal, school and system evaluation. An international comparative evaluation of schools systems is provided, as well as an analysis of current policies across OECD countries. The report also presents a framework for making assessments and shows examples of evidence-based policy options. One of the remarkable findings is that strong contrasts between OECD member states still exist; for instance in Denmark and Sweden, pupils in primary schools are not given any marks, while in Hungary, Italy or Poland, numerical marks are the key instrument for formal reporting.
In February 2013, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe launched a campaign encouraging the member states’ 200,000 municipal and regional authorities to sign a pact to stop sexual violence against children. The Pact is the main contribution of the Congress to the Council of Europe’s overarching ‘ONE in FIVE’ campaign, which began in 2010 and is based on data that estimates one in five children are victims of some form of sexual violence; its objective is to achieve wider implementation of the Convention on the Protection of Children Against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse. The involvement of local authorities is critical to the campaign’s success because they are responsible for many crucial issues in the field of child protection, such as the regulation of social and health services. An online “pact platform” has also been designed to monitor the progress and initiatives of signatories and will serve as a central repository of good practice.
Migration is essential in responding to the challenges posed by and ageing European society, but differences between the socioeconomic status of migrants and natives persist, and are to some extent passed down to generations born in the host country. The socioeconomic situation of second generation migrants with a foreign background (both parents born abroad), while being more positive than that of first-generation migrants, still shows disadvantages compared to the situation of individuals with a native background. While according to Eurostat statistics, migrants as a group suffer from disadvantages in terms of educational outcomes, income and employment rates, in the second generation (native born persons with one or both parents born abroad). Some of these disadvantages have been reduced or even, in the case of second-generation migrants with a mixed background (one parent born abroad), sometimes reversed. However, levels of educational attainment of second-generation migrants, differ considerably between Member States.
In early May 2013 a high-level conference presenting the Social Investment Package to civil society, Member State officials and key stakeholders was held in Leuven, under the aegis of the Irish Presidency of the European Union. A number of keynote speakers from various major European institutions took part in the event, including the President of the European Commission, the President of the European Council, and the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion. Commissioner László Andor gave a speech on the rationale behind the Social Investment Package. The conference focused on three themes relevant to the Package, including investment in people, social innovation and the role of NGOs, and the involvement of young people in tomorrow’s social Europe.
Today’s children are living in an environment that is radically different from the childhoods of their parents. The growing prevalence of virtual environments in private life and education is one of the most notable intergenerational changes. It has profound effects on children’s physical activity levels and socialisation, and challenges behavioural models that prevailed in previous generations. In particular, children’s online activities risk exposing them to novel forms of risks and create vulnerabilities that their parents and teachers are not familiar with. European institutions and EU-funded projects are increasingly addressing the risks and safety of children online.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has recently published a report card providing a comparative overview of child well-being in 29 of the world’s most advanced economies. Using international data from 2009 and 2010, the report breaks down well-being into five dimensions, namely education, housing and environment, material well-being, health and safety, and behaviour and risks. The report card consists of three sections: a country ranking; children’s views on their own well-being; and changes in child well-being since the 2007 UNICEF report card on this same topic. Overall the data show improvements for most indicators of children’s well-being irrespective of per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with particularly strong gains for Central and Eastern European countries.
The European Union (EU) Youth Conference, held between the 11– 13 March 2013, was the highlight of Ireland’s EU Youth Presidency Programme, and marked the culmination of consultations with 11,000 young people and 10 non-governmental organisations across 27 EU member states. One hundred and fifty young people from 27 EU Member States joined Minister Frances Fitzgerald and EU Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou at the conference in Dublin. A key focus of the meeting was on unemployment, which has emerged as the biggest challenge to the social inclusion of young people.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child, a body of currently 18 independent experts monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by its State Parties, has published its General Comment No. 15 on the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health (article 24). The Convention sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children, who are defined as every human being below the age of eighteen years unless the age of majority is attained earlier according to national legislation.
According to article 24 of the Convention, State Parties ‘recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health.’ They shall ‘strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such health care services.’ This General Comment no. 15 provides guidance and support to State parties and other duty bearers (governmental and non-governmental, private sector and funding organizations) across all levels of governance for respecting, protecting and fulfilling children’s right to health.
Eurochild is a network of European organisations and partnerships (from Poland, Sweden, the Netherlands, the UK, Ireland, Greece, Poland and Bulgaria) which focuses on promoting children’s rights. Eurochild led the two year project ‘Speak up!’ with funding from the European Commission’s Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Program. The ‘Speak up!’ project’s central aim was to investigate how children view their own rights, how these rights can be protected and how children think they are reflected in national and European policy.
László Andor, Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, recently delivered a speech on ‘Fighting poverty and preserving democracy through social investment’ at the Council of Europe Conference on Poverty and Inequalities in Societies of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Andor highlighted the aim of the European Commission’s (EC) Social Investment Package (SIP), which was adopted on 20th February, in increasing “participation in employment, better social spending and fairer taxation to offset inequality and fight against poverty across Europe”. The Package sets out an integrated framework for social policy reform drawing on good practices of Member States and calling for increased efficiency in achieving policy goals.
Hosted by the Irish Presidency of the EU in Dublin Castle, COFACE and the Irish Countrywomen’s Association co-organised the conference, “Vulnerable Families- What can Europe do?” on the 4th and 5th February 2013. The conference focused on the most vulnerable families in the EU who, in such an economic and social climate, are at risk of poverty and exclusion from the labour market. At such times of austerity these vulnerable families are increasingly at risk of not being able to access housing, social and health services and discussions at the conference sought to focus on how these challenges might be confronted. The aim to give vulnerable families in Europe a platform was realised and the Roadmap for Vulnerable Families 2020 was a key outcome of the conference.
COFACE not only studies how families live and the challenges they face, but also aims to address how policy might be shaped to try and make the lives of men, women and children happier, and the decisions they make easier. In 2010 COFACE initially proposed that 2014 should be a year to focus on family well-being. Having advocated strongly since this initial proposal, COFACE has prepared a campaign designated to support Reconciling Work and Family Life in 2014. Whilst one focus of the campagin aims to match people’s skills to jobs, it also aims to improve the well-being and lives of European citizens. COFACE hopes that the 2014 campaign will mark a year of positive change for families in Europe.
Within the framework of the Europe 2020 Strategy, the European Commission plans to publish a Recommendation on Child Poverty. In order to produce this document, the Commission has been working with representatives from Member States within the Social Protection Committee (SPC). On 27 June 2012, the SPC adopted an advisory report to the European Commission (EC) on the Recommendation, entitled Tackling and Preventing Child Poverty, Promoting Child Well-being, which fed into the Council Conclusions on Preventing and tackling child poverty and social exclusion and promoting children's well-being. Following the release of Council Conclusions, the Commission is expected to have voted on the final Recommendation on Child Poverty by the end of 2012.
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.
Eurochild has recently published a compilation of inspiring practices in the area of early childhood intervention in family and parenting support in light of the financial strain facing childhood and family services in Europe. The authors have collected practices which have delivered positive impacts for children and families, and have developed 12 case studies based on five years of exchange across European Union Member States. They formulate three core recommendations: parenting support should be part of a broader strategy to tackle the causes of poverty; family and parenting support services should be empowering and based on child-rights approaches; finally, the report emphasises the importance of adopting a balanced and critical perspective on evidence rather than a focus on specific methodologies.
Progress in neurological research is shedding a different light on the effects of poverty on early development, and raising critically important questions ranging from education and health to social welfare and juvenile justice.
Social scientists have been investigating links between family poverty and subsequent child outcomes for decades. Technological progress over the last decades has afforded social and neuroscientists a better understanding of the impact that a child’s socioeconomic status can have on the early development of cognitive capabilities, similarly to the impact of inadequate nutrition. The importance of this connection carries implication for policies aiming at reducing poverty and social exclusion of children in the US and Europe, but also carried out by international organizations such as the OECD.
The father-child relationship contributes to positive emotional development and health outcomes of children, and thus is an important element in their development. It is also important for mothers, both for their health and psychological well-being, to feel their partners’ support in raising children. In Fatherhood: Parenting Programmes and Policy – A Critical Review of Best Practice , Fiona McAllister and Adrienne Burgess (2012) of the UK think tank the Fatherhood Institute reviewed ‘policies and programmes that promote or facilitate the involvement of father and father-figures from the pre-natal period through the first eight years of their children’s lives’ in order to ‘establish evidence of these programmes’ potential impact on family violence, child abuse of children’s health and learning outcomes’ (p. 5). The study also provides policy recommendations as well as suggestions for future research.
The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence was opened for signature in Istanbul on 11 May 2011. It is the first European legal instrument to create a comprehensive legal framework to protect women against all forms of violence. On 27 September 2012, Italy became the 23rd member state of the Council of Europe to sign the Convention and on 14 March 2012, Turkey became the first member state of the Council of Europe to ratify it. The Convention will enter into force when it has been ratified by 10 countries, eight of which must be Council of Europe member states.
The impact of demographic change and the growing participation of women in the labour force on family structure has been the focus of research and policy making for some time. Less is known about how these trends impact on family wellbeing. A new edited collection of papers, Family Well-Being: European Perspectives (Springer Social Indicators Research Series, volume 49, forthcoming 2013) plugs a yawning gap in the methods developed by social scientists to measure “well-being”, which to date have not featured a targeted measure of this variable for family groups’ (p. 1). The book is particularly welcome in this time of austerity when policy efforts tackling weak economies across Europe may have profound effects on children, the elderly and immigrants, among others.
In 2011 the Netherlands Youth Institute in partnership with organisations in Germany, Hungary, Portugal and Sweden was granted a two-year project within the framework of the Daphne III programme of the European Commission: preventing and combating violence against children, young people, women, victims and at-risk groups. Entitled ‘Prevent and Combat Child Abuse: What works? An overview of regional approaches, exchange and research’, the project aims to compare policies and practices on the prevention of child abuse and neglect in Europe, The project also has a research component into experiences of parents regarding programmes. The final report of work stream one (available below) focuses on strategies in all of the participating countries ranging from prevention to treatment.
The role of grandparents in child care is a key issue for family policy in confronting demographic change in Europe today, given its importance for parents who participate in the labour market. The two studies presented here, recently published by the Max Planck Institute, analyse data from pan-European surveys to investigate the importance of values and norms in determining the role played by grandparents in providing childcare on the one hand, and the impact of available grandparental support on young mothers’ labour market participation on the other.
As the labour market participation of women is increasing, so is the demand for child care. The EU in 2002 set the “Barcelona Summit” targets for the availability of childcare institutions to 33% for children below 3 years and 90% for children from age 3 to school age. However, the availability of public, formal childcare varies largely between countries. Currently in the EU15 countries enrolment rates in childcare facilities for children below age 3 vary between 3% (Greece) to over 60% (Denmark).
As to informal child care, grandparents are by far the most important childcare providers throughout Europe. Their role in providing support to young parents therefore has an important impact on the realisation of the goals of European employment policy.
In the context of its thematic working group on family and parenting support, Eurochild organised a mutual learning seminar (peer review) 30 May – 1 June 2012 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Four Eurochild organisations (Children in Northern Ireland ; Action for Children, Wales; Nobody’s Children Foundation, Poland and National Network for Children, Bulgaria) presented and reviewed inspiring practices in prevention and early intervention that show what works in Europe to improve outcomes for children. Stakeholders were represented by Eurofound, the Council of Europe, the Dortmund University (Germany) and the European Commission.
As part of preparations for the twentieth anniversary of the International Year of the Family in 2014, United Nations Expert Group Meetings (EGM) were convened in New York, United States, and in Brussels, Belgium. The New York EGM (15-17 May 2012) addressed “ Good Practices in Family Policy Making: Family Policy Development, Monitoring and Implementation: Lessons Learnt ”. The European meeting (6-8 June 2012), focused on “ Poverty, work-family balance and intergenerational solidarity ” and was preceded by an awareness-raising meeting (5 th June). Outputs from the Brussels EGM will inform further preparation for the International Year of the Family and upcoming reports on family issues by the UN Secretary-General.
Young people have been particularly vulnerable to becoming unemployed in this prolonged recession. A high proportion of those who are ripe for starting their career are left out of the labour market. Recent reports produced by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) have analysed youth unemployment and factors associated with it, in particular by focusing on the NEET group of those who are ‘not in employment, education or training’. One of the reports, titled ‘Young people and NEETs in Europe: First findings’ aimed ‘to investigate the current situation of young people in Europe... and to understand the economic and social consequences of their disengagement from the labour market and education’. The other report with a title ‘Recent policy developments related to those not in employment, education and training (NEETs)’ also analysed the factors that make young people vulnerable to becoming unemployed analysed ‘the most recent NEET-specific policy interventions in the EU Member States and Norway’. The following paragraphs summarise some of the conclusions made in these reports.
In partnership with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation , King’s College London Institute of Gerontology and the Beth Johnson Foundation, Grandparents Plus is conducting a major research project on the role of grandparents across ten European states; Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and the United Kingdom (UK). This builds on work as part of an initiative launched by the Foundation in 2008 on ageing and social cohesion.
The Confederation of Family Organisations in the European Union (COFACE) has more than 50 member organisations across the Europe. For over 50 years, COFACE has been working to give a voice to European families and to improve family-related policies in the EU. To this end, a number of events and initiatives are being undertaken by COFACE around the International Day of Families on the 15 th of May, 2012. These activities are in support of a proposed European Year for Reconciling Work and Family Life in 2014 and as part of the current (2012) European Year of Active Aging and Solidarity between Generations.
On 19 th 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.
A recently published report by Maria Rita Testa of the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital (Vienna Institute of Demography of the Austrian Academy of Sciences) entitled “Family Sizes in Europe: Evidence from the 2011 Eurobarometer Survey” reveals a discrepancy between the ideal and actual family size for Europeans in EU27. About 30% of European men and women age 40 or above in the EU27 stop their reproductive career before reaching the family size they consider to be ideal when asked in the survey. Over the last decade, preference for two-children families have slightly increased, and the ideal number of children for most Europeans remains high at about two. The report suggests that in the context of declining European fertility, high ideals leave room for policymakers to try and close the gap between ideal and actual family size.
On March 19-21, the Regional Council of North Karelia with DART (Declining, Ageing and Regional Transformation), the Finnish Ministry of Health and the European Alliance for Families organised a conference on ‘Perspectives on Ageing’ in Joensuu, Finland. The conference facilitated several workshops, expert lectures, panel discussions and meetings aimed to discuss issues pertinent to ageing policies. Among the main themes of the conference was the question of how to best ensure that EU health and long-term care systems will be able to cope with an increase in demand due to population ageing?
In addition to this core question, conference presenters also discussed issues of employment and migration, ageing and quality of care, the relationship between healthcare providers and healthcare users as well as wider demographic challenges. The conference aimed to (1) raise political and general awareness of the issues concerning population ageing; (2) generate innovative policy measures to tackle the present and forthcoming challenges related to health and long-term care, and (3) facilitate networking and sharing of experience among regional, national and European stakeholders.
2014 will mark an important milestone – the 20 th anniversary of the International Year of the Family (IYF). The United Nations General Assembly recognised the important role families play in society by proclaiming the IYF in 1994. Planning for this anniversary creates opportunities for re-visiting the efforts that have been made in support of family-orientated policies. The UN Secretary-General report (A/66/62-E/2011/4) outlines the major policy themes, including confronting family poverty and social exclusion; ensuring work-family balance; and advancing social integration and intergenerational solidarity within families and communities. The recent UN Secretary-General report (A/67/61–E/2012/3) focuses on the preparations for and observance of the twentieth anniversary of the International Year of the Family in 2014. The UN Focal Point on the Family also promotes family policies and contributes to the follow-up processes espoused by the IYF. The anniversary of IYF and the relevant policy developments are further explored in the recent issue of the International Federation for Family Development (IFFD) .
The issue of “work-life balance and reform of the welfare state” was discussed at a regional seminar on 25 January, organised by the European Commission in collaboration with the Lombardy region under the framework of the European Alliance for Families. Hosted by the European Economic and Social Committee in Brussels, the event brought together representatives of EU regions, ministries of EU Member States, NGOs and social partners. The seminar allowed for a comparison of different innovative approaches and practices in Italy (Lombardy), Sweden (Lindköping (West Sweden)) and Spain (Catalonia). A full report on the day will be soon available on this website.
The Bundestag (German Federal Parliament) approved a new national Child Protection Act on 27 October 2011. The act, which was submitted by Germany's Federal Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, Kristina Schröder, was approved with a large majority. It is expected to fundamentally change Germany's approach to child protection. It aims to improve the protection of children and youth in all walks of life and to strengthen the hand of those who are committed to children's welfare.
In a non-binding resolution passed on 25 October 2011, MEPs have called on EU member states to do more to help single mothers. "The report is full of excellent initiatives and new objectives that the EU should set itself, because this will become a central issue and one of Europe's priorities, considering that the number of single mothers is growing," said rapporteur Barbara Matera (European People's Party, Italy) during the debate on 24 October.
This European Alliance for the Family stakeholder seminar looked at big subject areas such as the diversity and the dynamics of families in the European Union, the delay in family formation due to the impact of the crisis and the ambivalent situation of youth and how family policy in the EU is coping with these issues.
Eurochild, a network that aims to improve the quality of life of children and young people, says in its latest policy position in October 2011 that the best way to tackle child poverty and social exclusion is to focus on three broad areas of action: access to adequate resources; access to quality services and opportunities; and children’s participation. There are more than 20 million children and young people living at risk of poverty and Eurochild warns that "as new chapters of the financial crisis unravel in Europe, the number of children at risk is still on the rise".
The Family Platform , a consortium of twelve organisations put together to articulate key family research and policy issues, has identified seven priorities for further research at the European Union and national levels: care; life course and transitions; ‘doing family’ (i.e. the managing everyday family life); migration and mobility; inequalities and insecurities; media and new information technologies; and family policies.
In June 2010, the Belgian Secretary of State for Social Integration and the Fight against Poverty, Philippe Courard, set aside €4.2 million to help the “Centres publics d’Action sociale” (CPAS; Public social action centres) fight child poverty. Eighty percent of the centres used this budget with very positive results. The same sum has been allocated for 2011.
Most European children spend a large part of their early childhood in some form of out-of-home care. At the same time, there is a broad consensus among experts that loving, stable, secure, and stimulating relationships with caregivers in the earliest months and years of life are critical for every aspect of a child’s development, especially for disadvantaged children.
At the Council for Employment and Social Affairs on 17 June, ministers discussed policies and measures which promote the reconciliation of work and family life in the context of demographic change. The conclusions it adopted aim to promote policies favouring families and work-life balance in the context of addressing the demographic challenge and in order to support the Europe 2020 strategy.
Early intervention is both an effective and cost-effective way of supporting families and their children. Consequently, during times of economic crisis local and national authorities should continue (to commission) the delivery of universal approaches of parenting support. This was concluded during Eurochild’s round table on ‘the role of local authorities in parenting support’. The meeting was hosted by the Dutch municipality of Eindhoven and the Netherlands Youth Institute on May 19 and 20.
The European Parliament has called for greater investment in early years education and care, in a resolution adopted on 12 May. MEPs’ conclusions, drafted by UK Socialist Mary Honeyball, also consider there is a need for better qualified and remunerated staff in the sector, as well as more Europe-based research in order to help achieve and update EU targets.
On 4 May the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) adopted an opinion on ‘The role of family policy in relation to demographic change with a view to sharing best practices among Member States’. The opinion offers a timely reminder of the main demographic trends across Europe, outlines what an effective family policy should comprise and stresses the key importance the EU can play in the field. The text also supports the idea of making 2014 the European Year for Families.
“Doing Better for Families”, a recent OECD report, has revealed changing trends in the composition and the well-being of families in OECD countries and urges governments to support families in a time of rapid social change. Poverty in households with children is rising in nearly all OECD countries and the report argues that governments should ensure that their policies protect the most vulnerable.
On 15 March, Scottish Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon launched the nation''s strategy to tackle child poverty. One fifth of children in Scotland are growing up in relative poverty, and these children''s futures are heavily influenced by their parents'' economic circumstances.
Some 35 representatives of EU regions and cities, the European Commission and the Dutch government met in Brussels on 23 March 2011 for a seminar on “Serious gaming and the consequences of a shrinking population for local communities”. Organised by the Dutch Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations and the European Commission (DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion), the seminar explored European policy responses to population shrinking and introduced a learning tool or “serious game” designed to help authorities and stakeholders make appropriate decisions.
EU ministers for demography and family policy met informally in Gödöllő, Hungary, on 1 April 2011. The event took place in the context of the thematic week “Europe for Families, Families for Europe – Population Issues and Policies Awareness” organised by the Hungarian Presidency from 28 March to 3 April.
The European Women''s Lobby (EWL), a European NGO that promotes gender equality and women’s rights, has voiced concerns on gender equality and definitions of family in recent European family policy debates. Excessive focus is being placed on birth rates, it fears.
With the Hungarian Presidency’s “Europe for Families, Families for Europe: Population issues and policies awareness week” (28 March – 3 April 2011), European family policy came under the spotlight as never before. “Only five years ago this would not have been possible”, noted William Lay of the Confederation of Family Organisations in the EU (COFACE). “It would not have been politically correct.”
The conference “Excellence and Equity in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC)” was held on 21 and 22 February in Budapest. This first expert level event on education under the Hungarian EU Presidency brought together experts from member state ministries, policy makers and various international organisations.
The Commission recently published a Communication in which it encourages EU Member States to work together on improving their policies on early education and care of young children. The text calls for every child to have a better start in life, which would lay the foundation for their future lifelong learning, social integration, personal development and employability. The Communication proposes action at a time when nearly 19 million European children are estimated to be at risk of poverty.
A report by Eurochild, published in January 2011, has revealed that that the economic downturn is disproportionally affecting families and children. The findings follow an evaluation of the impact of the crisis by the network''s members across Europe.
The UK government has announced it will go ahead with plans to allow couples to share maternity leave from April 2011. The scheme offers fathers the chance to take up any leave unused by their partners if they return to work early. The government has also indicated it is considering extending flexibility to other family members from 2015.
A public hearing of the European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, on 31 January 2011, was an opportunity to hear the views of experts on the challenges facing single mother households and ideas for practical solutions and policies to help single mothers. The aim of the meeting was to provide input for a European Parliament report on the situation of single mothers, which will be drafted by the Italian MEP Barbara Matera.
On 9 June 2010 the French Senate passed a new law to mandate the creation of “maisons d’assistants maternels” (centres for child minding assistants) providing child minding services from a single venue. The law aims to increase the availability and flexibility of childcare available to parents.
What are the major trends of comparative family research in the European Union? What are the main research gaps to be tackled? What is the future of families? These were the key questions addressed in the final conference of the FAMILYPLATFORM project.
Flexible work arrangements are increasingly seen as key in helping women and men strike a better balance between work, private and family life. In a recent Eurobarometer survey, nearly half of the Europeans said more flexible working hours would be their favourite measure for a better work-life balance. Hoverer, only one third of all European companies offer some kind of flexible working options.
The UK government’s Chancellor George Osborne has announced that higher-rate taxpayers will no longer be eligible for child benefit as from 2013. The move is part of the UK government’s efforts to cut spending as, in recent years, the country’s public deficit has grown markedly. Around 7.7 million families with children currently get child benefit, at a cost of about £12 billion a year, according to the BBC, which adds that ministers estimate the change will affect about 1.2 million families. Savings are estimated at £1 billion a year.
The average hourly pay gap between women and men remains at 18% within the European Union and, on an annual basis at 24%, according to a European Report released by the Belgian presidency of the EU. A conference organised by the Belgian presidency of the EU looked into the reasons for the pay gap and what could be done to reduce it. The event, entitled ‘How to close the Gender Pay Gap?’ was held in Brussels on 25 and 26 October 2010. It brought together representatives from EU Member States, the EU institutions, gender equality bodies, social partner organisations, civil society and the academic world.
Child poverty is at the top of the political agenda currently. The economic crisis is causing increased unemployment and hardship while putting pressure on national governments’ budgets for financial support to children and families. 2010 is also the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion. In addition the EU’s Europe 2020 Strategy includes a proposal for a new flagship initiative, the European Platform Against Poverty. It was in this context, that on 4 and 5 November 2010, stakeholders and policy makers met at the Seventh Eurochild annual conference in Örebro, Sweden to discuss how to work together to end child poverty. Eurochild is a European network of organisations promoting the rights and welfare of children in Europe.
Representatives from European institutions, NGOs, and policy makers came together on 14 and 15 October in Brussels at the conference “Social inclusion of families and EU Policies: Where do we stand?” The goal was to look at the family dimension of EU policies and to chart a roadmap towards a socially inclusive Europe. The event was organised by the Confederation of Family Organisations in the EU (COFACE) in cooperation with the EU Belgian Presidency in the context of the 2010 European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion.
Many family-friendly policies centre on providing early childhood education and care (ECEC) for children younger than compulsory school age. Up to now, however, much of the European debate on such services has been driven by the attempt to encourage female participation in the labour market. Targets have therefore tended to be based on quantity rather than quality.
On 20 October, the European Parliament voted with a large majority in favour of granting women workers the right to take at least 20 weeks of maternity leave on full pay, two more weeks than had been proposed by the Commission. MEPs also called for an entitlement to paid paternity leave of at least two weeks. These proposals can only become law with the approval of EU Member States.
20 million out of the 100 million children and young people aged between 0 and 17 years in Europe are at risk of poverty. This figure has undoubtedly increased even further due to the effects of the recent economic crisis.Fighting child poverty is one of the priorities of the European Union. In this context, the Belgian EU presidency in cooperation with the King Baudouin Foundation, UNICEF and Eurochild organised the conference "Who Cares? Roadmap for a Recommendation to fight child poverty" on 2 and 3 September 2010.
The Belgian pressure group Femmes Prévoyantes Socialistes (FPS) has launched a campaign to encourage fathers to take more parental leave. Belgium has relatively generous allocations of paternal and parental leave, but fathers are still not using as much of their entitlements as they could.
European mothers and fathers increasingly rely on public childcare to be able to reconcile their professional and family lives. After centuries of childcare being a family affair, the care of young children is therefore increasingly evolving into an out-of-home activity organised by governments and private enterprise. A European Commission seminar examined this shift, and how best to guarantee the welfare of children, while promoting employment for parents.
‘Building a Europe for and with Children’ is a Council of Europe (CoE) programme that was approved by heads of state and government from the 47 member countries of the CoE back at a summit in Warsaw in 2005. The programme''s main objective is to help national governments, MPs, local and regional authorities, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) design and implement national strategies for the protection of children''s rights and the prevention of violence against children. Children are defined as being any human being up to the age of eighteen.
The Swedish government has introduced a new rule into its social insurance scheme to help single parents who fall ill and cannot look after their child. The rule, which has been in force since 1 January 2010, allows another insured person (i.e. a person legally living and/or working in Sweden) who forgoes paid work to receive temporary parental benefit to look after the child. It applies to children up to the age of three. Previously temporary parental benefit was only available to the parents themselves or to a carer replacing the child’s regular carer if they were to fall ill.
What is the situation of single-parent families across the EU? What are different countries doing to support these families and help them stay in the labour market? A recent seminar organised within the framework of the European Alliance for Families, during this 2010 European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion, examined these issues. The seminar, entitled ‘Supporting Lone Parents: How to Best Integrate Them into the Labour Market?’ was held in Brussels on 2 June 2010 and gathered representatives of the European Commission, EU Member States, and NGOs.
In the United Kingdom, the right to request flexible working arrangements has been extended to parents with children up to the age of 16 years. Previously the legislation was available to parents with children under the age of six. It is also available for parents of children under 18 where the child is disabled and for carers of certain adults. This means that businesses are required to consider flexible-working requests from more of their employees, a change that is likely to considerably boost home working.
What is the role of social protection systems in preventing and tacking poverty and social exclusion of families in Europe? A recent seminar organised by COFACE, the confederation of family organisations in the European Union, considered this in the context of 2010 as the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion and the recent proposals for the Europe2020 Strategy. The seminar, titled ‘the role of social protection in the fight against poverty and social exclusion: which safety net for families?’ was held in Brussels on 26 March 2010.
Despite changing family structures, every European is connected with family life in some shape or form. Surveys show that family policy issues such as work-life balance, public support for families, and care provision rank among Europeans'' top concerns. A new initiative called ‘Family Platform” seeks to chart and review latest developments in the field of family research in the European Union (EU), discuss the possible future of families in the EU, and come up with suggestions for the next European research agenda in the area as of 2012. The Family Platform is funded under the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme..
How is the current financial and economic crisis affecting the way Europe is dealing with its ageing population and declining birth rates? How are European families affected? These are the questions that were posed by a European Commission seminar on 22 February, entitled “The impact of the crisis on the Member States’ ability to respond to the challenge of demographic change”. The event gathered experts and representatives of the European Commission, EU Member States, NGOs and family associations.
On 31 August and 1 September 2009, Berlin was the venue for the symposium "Child poverty – a European challenge”, organised by the Commission of the Associations of German Associations for Family Affairs (AGF). The event brought together over 100 participants from 17 European counties, including representatives of NGOs and family associations, as well as national governments and EU officials.
Fifteen-year-old EU-wide rules on leave for working parents are set to be updated, following a 30 November decision by EU social affairs ministers. They gave their approval to new standards that had been agreed with social partners in June. The measures will increase the minimum allowance of parental leave and encourage more fathers to participate in family responsibilities.
Die Nichtregierungsorganisation Eurochild, die sich europaweit für die Interessen von Kindern einsetzt, veranstaltete am 11. – 12. November 2009 ihre sechste Jahreskonferenz in Limassol, Zypern. Unter dem Titel: „Beobachtung des Wohlergehens von Kindern: bessere Politik, bessere Praktiken“ brachte das diesjährige Event zu dem wichtigen Thema Persönlichkeiten wie den EU-Kommissar für Beschäftigung und Soziales sowie Regierungsvertreter, Forscher, Vertreter der Zivilgesellschaft und junge Menschen an einen Tisch.
An innovative scheme in Denmark is combining the twin challenges of active ageing and childcare. Through the ‘Reserve Grandparent Scheme’, older people volunteer to care for sick children when their parents are at work. The scheme was discussed at a seminar organised by the European Commission in Brussels on 16 October for the members of the Expert Group on Demographic Issues.
EU Member States are testing varied and different approaches to aid parents improve the balance between their work and family life. Examples of experimental measures employed at national level – and broader national perspectives – were presented at a seminar in Rome on 9 October 2009, which was hosted by the Italian Department for Family Policies, in cooperation with the European Commission. The meeting was held within the framework of the EU Expert Group on Demographic issues.
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.
Launched as a pilot experience in France in September 2009, the ‘jardins d’éveil’ (daycare centres) are positioned between the halte-garderie (creche) and école maternelle (nursery school) and are aimed at children aged between two and three years. The government will fund 8,000 places in these new structures by 2012, at a total cost of €25 million. A number of different actors will participate in developing these experiences, especially local officials.
Leave policies – in the context of family policy – topped the agenda at the sixth annual seminar of the International Network on Leave Policies & Research at the Charles University in Prague on 10 and 11 September, attended by the EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Vladimir Špidla. Set up in 2004, the network has members from more than 25 countries – mostly in Europe, but also from Australia, Canada and the United States. The network is coordinated by Dr. Fred Deven (Flemish Government’s Population and Family Study Centre in Brussels) and Professor Peter Moss (Institute of Education University in London).
Urlaubspolitik – im Kontext der Familienpolitik – stand auf dem sechsten Jahresseminar des International Network on Leave Policies & Research (Internationales Netzwerk zu Urlaubspolitik & -forschung) an der Karls-Universität in Prag am 10. und 11. September ganz oben auf der Agenda. Das 2004 gebildete Netzwerk hat Mitglieder aus mehr als 25 Ländern, hauptsächlich in Europa, aber auch aus Australien, Kanada und den Vereinigten Staaten. Die Koordinierung des Netzwerks liegt in Händen von Dr. Fred Deven (Zentrum für Bevölkerungs- und Familienstudien der flämischen Regierung, Brüssel) und Professor Peter Moss (Institute of Education University in London).
Sweden took over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union on 1 July 2009. The country’s domestic family policies have achieved some exemplary results: female and maternal employment rates are among the highest in the EU and child poverty among the lowest. With a view to moving family policy forward across Europe, Sweden set out two priority areas for its six-month Presidency: “gender equality and non-discrimination” and “healthy and dignified ageing”.
On 18 June 2009, European social partners, in the presence of the European Commission, put pen to paper on an updated agreement on parental leave. The new text sets out a minimum of four months leave for each parent, one month longer than the terms set out in their prior 1995 agreement and the EU Directive that followed it.
The Irish government announced, on 7 April 2009, a grant for pre-school service providers offering Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE). Pre-school service providers notified to the Health and Security Executive or services registered with the Irish Montessori Educational Board (IMEB) will have the option to take up a government grant for this purpose. Children will be eligible if they are aged between 3 years 3 months and 4 years 6 months on the 1st of September each year. The service will be available to all parents subject to local availability and is expected to benefit some 70,000 children. The move marks a shift in the Irish government’s policy away from providing financial assistance (via the Early Childcare Supplement, which will be abolished in December 2009) towards providing services.