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Policy Briefs

policy briefs

Researchers associated with EPIC have authored a number of policy briefs relating to family and child well-being. The topics covered include the impact of the financial crisis on childcare, children with special educational needs, and parental leave arrangements, among others.

EPIC policy brief on parenting supportpdf(431 kB)

This policy brief reviews the variety of initiatives related to parenting which have been introduced by different European Members States to improve children’s chances in life through childcare and parental leave arrangements. These initiatives are considered unique in the way that they aim at empowering parents, who, as a result, can use their own resources more efficiently to improve the lives of their dependants. Typically, these involve employment policies to help employed parents reconcile their work and family life, services to help parents-to-be prepare for childbirth, and assistance to financially disadvantaged families, helping them provide for their children. The ultimate aim of these policies is to ensure the well-being of children, caring for their physical, emotional and social needs. However, these efforts are also said to bring economic benefits as they allow parents to engage in paid work. Providing for children at an early stage of their lives is believed to be cost-effective, leading to an increase in human capital for disadvantaged children, thanks to a decrease in early school leaving, and a decrease in the need to respond to criminal offences and anti-social behaviour.

Improving parenting skills can have a crucial impact on child development and well-being. Counselling and the provision of necessary information are key elements of parenting support, bringing together parents and support providers from a variety of sectors. Many EU countries have been successful in initiating such collaborations. Among these are networks (France, Belgium, Finland); family information centres (England, Finland, Sweden, Belgium, Germany, France, The Netherlands, Hungary, Italy); children’s education projects (France); services for expecting parents and young parents; programmes promoting positive parenting and conflict resolution (France Germany, UK, Poland); ICT-enabled and internet-based services (UK, Sweden), and ‘train the trainers’ programme (Germany, Italy, Denmark, The Netherlands, England).

The views expressed in these briefs do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Commission.

EPIC Policy brief on the impact of changes to benefits systems on children during the economic crisis (DG Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion, European Platform for Investing in Children, 2014)pdf(4 MB)

Children are more likely to be at risk of poverty and social exclusion than adults, the European Commission concluded in its 2013 recommendation ‘Investing in Children: breaking the cycle of disadvantage’. The economic crisis and its widespread effects have increased poverty and social exclusion risks, notably through cuts in public spending leading to underinvestment in child-focused policies. However, authorities increasingly realise that the austerity measures affecting the expenditure on early intervention and preventive policies may result in greater public spending in the future. As a result, new initiatives have been launched, focusing on implementing cost-effective measures to improve childcare services, education, and health care, and designed to help tackle unemployment and housing issues. All these elements are crucial for improving the well-being of children and families, as well as for promoting stability. A handful of European countries have proceeded with measures to mitigate the impact of economic crisis on children and families. Austria, Germany, France, and Italy have put in place new cash allowances, increased tax credit/breaks, childcare provision, and increased parental leave. Such initiatives aim to sustain and increase effective support for vulnerable members of society, who tend to be hit hardest by economic crises.

The views expressed in these briefs do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Commission.

EPIC Policy brief on special needs educationpdf(687 kB)

Did you know there is an EU agency dedicated to development in special needs education? The aim of the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education is to promote quality special educational needs (SEN) education, to identify key factors that hinder or support positive experiences, and to help share information with policy makers. A strong political consensus has emerged in Europe on the importance of inclusive education, and ensuring children with SEN (about 15 million in Europe) are included within mainstream education. Many Member States have made good progress in developing coherent, localised and inclusive early intervention strategies, which provide for consultation with affected families. However, mutual learning and the sharing of best practices on the provision of support for children with SEN are lacking at the European level. There are a number of evidence-based promising practices relating to special needs education listed on the European Platform for Investing in Children’s website, such as ‘Helping Autism Sufferers Live and Work’, ‘STOP4-7’ and ‘Incredible Years’.

The views expressed in these briefs do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Commission.

EPIC Policy brief on demography and inequalitypdf(548 kB)

Education, migration, and family structure are just a few of the factors which effect financial and social inequality in the EU. Children are particularly susceptible to the risk of poverty in Europe, due to the knock-on economic and social effects of population aging, labour supply and demand, and earnings inequality. The predicted fall in the GDP growth rate is also likely to have a negative impact on living standards, and would affect those not-in-employment most, a group which includes children, depending on their parental income. The education performance of children of migrants in EU countries has been lower than that of native-born children, and the high levels of unemployment  and low levels of income which migrants tend to experience have predictable effects on child poverty rates. The decreasing stability of marriage, and the growing proportion of the population of the EU-27 living in single-adult households – which face higher at-risk-of-poverty rates – are both factors which have a significant impact on inequality in Europe, though the impact of family  structure varies by country. What is clear is that single-parent households and families with a great number of children face higher risks of poverty, and that the proportion of household types that face these higher poverty risks is set to rise.

The views expressed in these briefs do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Commission.

EPIC Policy brief on how childcare, parental leave and flexible working arrangements interact in Europe (DG Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion, European Platform for Investing in Children, 2014)pdf(2 MB)

Most parents in Europe combine a variety of methods to reconcile their working lives with childcare duties, and their arrangements are related to their preferences, the age of their children, and the labour market opportunities to which they have access. These arrangements include formal childcare settings such as nurseries, preschools or registered child minders; informal arrangements where care is most often provided by grandparents or unregistered nannies, and parental leave arrangements.

Paternity and maternity leave provides opportunities for parents to provide their own childcare, though length of leave, compensation and the share of leave between parents varies considerably between EU Member States. At the same time women are much more likely to reduce their working hours in order to care for their children and assume childcare responsibilities than men. This is the main cause of low labour market inactivity and low female employment rates in Europe. High participation rates in formal childcare settings are however not a prerequisite for high levels of female market participation but it seems also questionable whether informal childcare is enough to support women’s full-time labour market participation.

The views expressed in these briefs do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Commission.

EPIC Policy brief on early childhood interventions and progression to higher education in Europe (DG Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion, European Platform for Investing in Children, 2014)pdf(847 kB)

The early years of childhood are crucial for the development of the cognitive and social-behavioural skills of an adult. Thus, they represent a unique challenge and opportunity to invest in children. Extensive research has shown that Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) is effective in tackling the inequality which can tend to spring from different experiences during these early years, and that ECEC can help to break the cycle of disadvantage. Experts have concluded that most of the gaps in cognitive ability that partly explain discrepancies in adult outcomes already exist at the age of five, emphasising the crucial role of early intervention, and the relatively minor role of subsequent schooling by comparison.

One potential long-term measure of the success of ECEC is access to higher education, particularly for underrepresented groups, such as those from low socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds. However, the magnitude of this unused potential has not yet been fully investigated in Europe, although the long-term returns of interventions and their ability to raise academic standards have been documented, as have the benefits of ECEC in the United States. What is clear is that in the long term, ECEC can boost the academic abilities of disadvantaged students, thus enabling them to pursue higher studies.

The views expressed in these briefs do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Commission.