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EU Child Guarantee - will it work?

The objective of the proposed European Child Guarantee is to prevent and combat social exclusion by guaranteeing the access of children in need to a set of key services.  The European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan sets a target of reducing the number of children at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU by at least 5 million.  The European Child Guarantee is identified by the Commission as one of the key policy tools of achieving this target.  Its purpose is to reduce the gap between children in need and their better off peers in terms of access to key services and address the high economic and societal costs of child social exclusion and the intergenerational transmission of disadvantages.

Specifically, the Child Guarantee invites EU member states to:

(a) guarantee for children in need effective and free access to early childhood education and care, education and school-based activities, at least one healthy meal each school day and healthcare;

(b) guarantee for children in need effective access to healthy nutrition and adequate housing.

Member States should identify children in need and within this group take into account, wherever appropriate in designing their national integrated measures, specific disadvantages experienced by:

  • homeless children or children experiencing severe housing deprivation;
  • children with a disability;
  • children with a migrant background;
  • children with a minority racial or ethnic background (particularly Roma);
  • children being in alternative (especially institutional) care;
  • children in precarious family situations.

Member States are invited to build an integrated and enabling policy framework to address social exclusion of children, focusing on breaking intergenerational cycles of poverty and disadvantage and reducing the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With a view to guaranteeing for children in need effective and free access to early childhood education and care, education and school-based activities and a healthy meal each school day, Member States are encouraged to:

  • identify and address financial and non-financial barriers to participation in early childhood education and care, education, and school-based activities;
  • take measures to prevent and reduce early school leaving, re-engage children who are at risk of dropping out or have dropped out of education or training;
  • provide learning support to children with learning difficulties to compensate for their linguistic, cognitive and educational gaps;
  • adapt facilities and educational materials of early childhood education and care and of educational establishments to the needs of children with a disability, using inclusive teaching and learning methods; for this purpose ensure that qualified teachers and other educational professionals are available, such as psychologists, speech therapists, rehabilitators or teaching assistants;
  • put in place measures to support inclusive education and avoid segregated classes in early childhood education and care establishments and in educational establishments; this may also include giving priority or early access for children in need;
  • ensure at least one healthy meal each school day;
  • ensure provision of educational materials, including books or uniforms, where applicable;
  • provide high speed connectivity, digital services and adequate equipment necessary for distance learning to ensure access to educational content online;
  • ensure transport to early childhood education and care and education establishments, where applicable;
  • ensure equal and inclusive access to school-based activities, including participation in school trips;
  • develop a framework for cooperation of educational establishments, local communities, social services and social economy actors to support inclusive education, to provide after school care and opportunities to participate in sport, leisure and cultural activities, and to build and invest in educational establishments as centres of inclusion and participation.

With a view to guaranteeing for children in need effective and free access to quality healthcare, Member States are invited to:

  • facilitate early detection and treatment of diseases and developmental problems, including those related to mental health, ensure access to periodic medical, including dental and ophthalmology, examinations and screening programmes; ensure timely curative and rehabilitative follow-up, including access to medicines, treatments and supports, and access to vaccination programmes;
  • (b) provide targeted rehabilitation and habilitation services for children with disabilities;
  • (c) implement accessible health promotion and disease prevention programmes targeting children in need and their families, as well as professionals working with children.

With a view to guaranteeing for children in need effective access to sufficient and healthy nutrition, Member States are encouraged to:

  • support access to healthy meals also outside of school days, including through in-kind or financial support;
  • ensure that nutrition standards in early childhood education and care and education establishments address specific dietary needs;
  • limit advertisement and restrict the availability of foods high in fat, salt and sugar in early childhood education and care and education establishments;
  • provide adequate information to children and families on healthy nutrition for children.

With a view of guaranteeing for children in need effective access to adequate housing, Member States are invited to:

  • ensure that homeless children and their families receive adequate accommodation in emergency shelters, prompt transfer from such shelters to permanent housing and provision of relevant social and advisory services;
  • assess and revise, if necessary, national, regional and local housing policies and take actions to ensure that the interests of families with children in need, including addressing energy poverty, are duly taken into account; such assessment and revision should also include social housing policies and housing benefits;
  • provide for priority and timely access to social housing for children in need and their families;
  • while taking into account the best interests of the child, prevent children from being placed into institutional care; ensure transition of children from institutional care to quality community-based or family-based care and support their independent living and social integration.

In terms of Governance, Member States are encouraged to:

  • nominate a national Child Guarantee Coordinator, equipped with adequate resources and mandate enabling the effective coordination and monitoring of the implementation of this Recommendation;
  • with a view of most effective targeting of measures to children in need and taking into account national, regional and local organisations and circumstances, involve relevant stakeholders in identifying children in need and barriers they face in accessing and taking up the services covered by this Recommendation;
  • within six months from the adoption of this Recommendation, submit to the Commission an action plan, covering the period until 2030, to implement this Recommendation.
  • develop effective outreach measures towards children in need and their families, in particular at regional and local level and through educational establishments, trained mediators, family-support services, civil society and social economy organisations, with a view of raising awareness and encouraging and facilitating the take-up of the services covered by this Recommendation;
  • ensure the participation of regional, local and other relevant authorities, children and relevant stakeholders representing civil society, non-governmental organisations, educational establishments and bodies responsible for promoting social inclusion and integration, children’s rights, inclusive education and non-discrimination, including national equality bodies throughout the preparation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the action plan;
  • report every two years to the Commission on the progress in implementing this Recommendation, in line with the national action plan.

Funding
European Union funds through the European Social Fund Plus will been targeted towards the achievement of the Child Guarantee. Those EU members states who have levels of child poverty or social exclusion above the EU average (of which Ireland is one), must allocate at least 5 per cent of their European Social Fund Plus to tackling child poverty.  The European Commission has also identified the European Regional Development Fund REACT-EU, Invest-EU, the Recovery and Resilience Facility and the Technical Support Instrument as funds which will equally support investments in enabling infrastructure, such as social housing and early childhood education and care facilities, as well as equipment, access to quality and mainstream services and implementing structural reforms.

Monitoring
The Commission intends to monitor the progress in implementing the European Child Guarantee, including its outcomes and the impact on children in need, in the context of the European Semester, and propose, where appropriate, country-specific recommendations to Member States.  This is welcome, as without a specific focus on child poverty within the European Semester Process, progress will be difficult to achieve.  Social priorities must be given the same prominence as economic priorities within the European Semester process.  In a 2020 report on child poverty[1] by the European Court of Auditors (ECA) concluded that it is almost impossible to assess how the EU contributes to Member States’ efforts to reduce child poverty[2].  The report found that the relevance and strength of EU instruments examined are limited because they are not legally binding – and more powerful tools, such as the European Semester or support from EU funds, rarely address child poverty specifically.  For the European Child Guarantee to be a success it must be fully embedded in the European Semester Process, including as part of Country Specific Recommendations. 

The following policies should form part of Government’s National Action Plan to implement the European Child Guarantee:

  • Ensure adequate income through the lifecycle, including adequate payments for children
  • Ensure families have access to quality services, in particular childcare, early childhood education and care, healthcare and housing.
  • Introduce State-led childcare.  Affordable childcare and child-friendly employment arrangements are key requirements for greater labour market participation among young mothers
  • Set ambitious headline national poverty targets and in addition set ambitious subsidiary poverty targets for vulnerable groups such as children, lone parents, jobless households, those in social rented accommodation.
  • Carry out in-depth social impact assessments prior to implementing proposed policy initiatives that impact on the income and public services on which many low-income households depend. This should include the poverty-proofing of all public policy initiatives.
  • Establish a minimum social floor of income and services below which no person or household should fall.