The future of the European Child Guarantee

written by Teuta Vodo and Ardiana Jaku

The aim of the European Child Guarantee (ECG) is to prevent and combat social exclusion by guaranteeing the access of children in need (persons under the age of 18 years who are at risk of poverty or social exclusion) to the following set of key services: free early childhood education and care; free education (including school-based activities and at least one healthy meal each school day); free healthcare; healthy nutrition; adequate housing.

The Child Guarantee is additional to a number of EU initiatives such as the EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child and the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan (Pillar 11).

For the implementation of the ECG the European Parliament adopted the “Council Recommendation (EU) 2021/1004 of 14 June 2021 on establishing a European Child Guarantee”. With the adoption of this Recommendation, EU Member states have to implement the ECG. The process started with the appointment of the Child Guarantee Coordinators and it went through three preparatory phases:

In the first preparatory phase, a report was presented on the feasibility, effectiveness and overall benefits of an EU child guarantee scheme, as well as concrete proposals to improve policies and programs at EU and (sub)national level.

During the second preparatory phase, a detailed study on the costs and benefits of providing free: a) education including school activities and full meals; b) early childhood education and care; c) regular health checks and follow-up treatment to all children at risk of poverty or social exclusion and d) services to prevent and combat homelessness among children.

During the third preparatory phase, in partnership with UNICEF, seven in-depth country studies were carried out, contributing to the development of national action plans on the implementation of ECG in these countries. During this phase, the practical operation of ECG was tested and recommendations were made for the successful design and implementation of ECG.

Following these preparatory phases, EU Member States are invited to submit their National Action Plans (NAPs) on the implementation of the European Child Guarantee. Each NAP must cover the period up to 2023 and must include existing and planned national and sub-national policy measures aimed at improving access for children in need to the five key service areas covered by the European Child Guarantee. In addition, the NAPs must contain the elements specified in the Recommendation (June 2021), in particular

Other measures are planned or taken to combat the social exclusion of children and break intergenerational cycles of disadvantage, based in particular on the establishment of the policy framework.

A national framework for data collection, monitoring and evaluation of the ECG recommendation, also with a view to establishing a common monitoring framework is required.

To date, 23 EU member States have submitted their NAPs to the European Commission, while Austria, Germany, Latvia and Romania have still not submitted their ECG NAPs.

An initial search of the existing 23 NAPs enabled us to identify differences and similarities in the structure and content of these plans. In the following subsection, we present the initial results of this initial research.

The European Child Guarantee is an initiative aimed at ensuring that every child in the European Union has access to essential services and support to meet their basic needs and promote their well-being. The guarantee focuses on addressing child poverty and social exclusion by providing targeted measures and interventions in areas such as education, healthcare, housing, and social services. The process involves Member States developing National Action Plans (NAPs) that outline the specific measures and strategies they will implement to achieve the objectives of the Child Guarantee. These NAPs are formulated through a participatory approach, involving collaboration between relevant government agencies, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders. The NAPs outline the goals, targets, and actions that each member state will undertake to ensure the effective implementation of the Child Guarantee and improve the lives of vulnerable children and families in their respective countries.

Each country has implemented specific strategies adapted to its situation and priorities. A comprehensive evaluation of the results achieved, the sustainability of the measures implemented and the overall impact on the well-being and development of children and vulnerable groups is required.

The measures implemented in different member states to address social, educational, health, and housing challenges and promote the well-being and development of children and vulnerable groups within their respective MSs are as follows:

In Sweden, the focus is on early detection and preventive efforts in healthcare, schools, and social services, along with greater collaboration and interventions in areas with socioeconomic challenges.

Spain has introduced measures to improve vocational training, fight against precariousness, create an equitable health system, strengthen housing rights, and protect children as vulnerable consumers.

Slovenia's measures include enhancing early childhood education and care, inclusive education, and school activities, reducing kindergarten fees for low-income families, and promoting the inclusion of Roma children and children from vulnerable groups.

Slovakia aims to ensure effective identification and referral systems for children in need, support cognitive and emotional development, and improve education, training, and job placement for disadvantaged children.

Portugal focuses on adapting access conditions to training courses for vulnerable individuals, strengthening parental leave schemes, providing social support to children and young people at risk of extreme poverty, and creating job opportunities for vulnerable groups.

Poland has implemented measures to increase the accessibility of drug addiction prevention programs, improve staff competences in addiction prevention, and facilitate access to indicative prevention programs.

The Netherlands has introduced measures to incorporate health topics into education, address housing and homelessness issues, regulate food marketing to children, and provide rehabilitation and habilitation services for children with disabilities.

Malta's measures include provision of healthy meals in schools, improvement of digital connectivity for distance learning, promoting equal access to school-based activities, and providing services for children in need.

Luxembourg has implemented measures to enhance education, support multilingualism, and improve living conditions, including diversifying the school offering, implementing multilingual education programs, and providing social support and assistance.

Lithuania focuses on healthcare, education, early childhood education and care, nutrition, and housing, provision of free healthcare and education services, ensuring healthy nutrition in schools, and targeting vulnerable groups of children.

Italy's measures encompass early childhood education and care, health and healthcare, poverty reduction, and housing rights, with an emphasis on prevention, collaboration, and integrated service models.

Ireland has implemented measures to address homelessness, education, healthcare, childcare, and social inclusion, including providing accommodation and support services for homeless families, improving access to education and healthcare, and enhancing support for children with disabilities.

Greece's measures target specific groups of children, such as refugee and migrant children, Roma children, and children with disabilities, aiming to remove barriers, improve access to services, enhance protection and rights, raise awareness, and promote social inclusion.

France has implemented measures to address child poverty, with a focus on households' socio-economic characteristics. Despite existing policies, child poverty remains high, especially in large families and single-parent households. Efforts are being made to develop childcare solutions, promote social mixing, provide language development support, and offer assistance to parents.

In Finland, various measures are being taken to address societal challenges and promote well-being. These include improving teacher education, introducing a positive credit register, enhancing oral health care services, and implementing climate policies. Finland also prioritizes digitalization, sports facilities, youth intervention programs, and gender equality in key reforms.

Estonia is working on an integrated model for social, educational, and health care services. The child protection system is being upgraded to improve identification and effectiveness of aid. Basic education and training for child protection officials are being renewed, aiming to enhance support and decision-making processes. These measures aim to ensure the well-being and protection of children in Estonia.

In the Czech Republic, measures are being implemented to increase awareness and education, promote parents' participation in the labor market through flexible work and childcare services, and improve the utilization of social work by families in need. Efforts are also focused on linking National Qualifications Framework (NQF) standards to vocational education and strengthening cooperation among various stakeholders in the field of family and child support.

Denmark has introduced several support packages and initiatives to assist vulnerable children and young people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. These include increased counseling and practical help, initiatives for socially vulnerable individuals, summer activities for young people, funds to combat loneliness, extra Christmas assistance for vulnerable families, and support packages for those facing prolonged restrictions.

In Cyprus, measures are in place to provide fare exemptions for various groups, including children under 6, families receiving public assistance, special groups, and school pupils. The country has also implemented programs for emergency assistance, Roma equality and inclusion, unaccompanied minors, child care and protection, and home-based facilities for children and people in need of long-term care.

Croatia focuses on establishing an integrated early detection system for children at risk of developmental delays and improving primary health care services. The country aims to provide quality health services at home and in local communities, enhance the right to monetary compensation for medicine costs, conduct reproductive health training, monitor health status and habits of at-risk children, and analyze barriers to accessing health services for children in poverty and social exclusion.

Bulgaria has established specific targets to combat child poverty and social exclusion. The measures encompass areas such as early childhood education, inclusive schooling, healthcare, nutrition, housing, and social integration tools. Emphasis is placed on the role of families, promoting respect for children's rights, changing attitudes towards disadvantaged children, encouraging volunteering, and leveraging the media. The government aims to coordinate efforts, monitor progress, and develop operational plans and reports to implement the action plan effectively.

The measures implemented in various European member states demonstrate a commitment to addressing social, educational, health, and housing challenges and promoting the well-being and development of children and vulnerable groups. Each country has adopted a unique approach tailored to its specific context and needs. The commitment and varied approaches across member states highlight the collective effort to improve the lives of children and vulnerable groups throughout Europe.

The measures implemented in different European member states to address social, educational, health, and housing challenges and promote the well-being of children and vulnerable groups reflect the commitment to improving their conditions. However, many challenges persist.

One significant challenge is the diverse socioeconomic contexts and disparities among Member States. Each country faces unique social, economic, and cultural circumstances that influence the effectiveness of their measures. Addressing these disparities and ensuring equitable access to resources and services across the European Union requires careful coordination and collaboration.

.Another challenge is the allocation of sufficient financial resources to support the implementation and sustainability of these measures. Adequate funding is crucial to ensure the availability and quality of social services, education, healthcare, and housing initiatives. Member states must navigate budget constraints and prioritize investments in areas that have the most significant impact on the well-being and development of children and vulnerable groups

Additionally, the coordination and harmonization of policies and practices across Member States pose a challenge. While each country has implemented measures tailored to their specific needs, there is a need for cooperation and knowledge-sharing to identify best practices and ensure consistent standards in addressing common challenges. This coordination is essential for promoting cross-border learning and facilitating the exchange of ideas and successful strategies.

Moreover, monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of these measures present ongoing challenges. It is crucial to establish robust monitoring systems and indicators to assess the impact of the implemented initiatives accurately. Regular evaluation helps to identify areas of improvement, measure progress, and inform evidence-based policymaking.

Finally, addressing the long-term consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic poses an additional challenge. The pandemic has exacerbated existing vulnerabilities and inequalities, requiring Member States to adapt their measures to meet the evolving needs of children and vulnerable groups. The recovery and resilience efforts must take into account the impact of the pandemic on education, health, housing, and social support systems.