Promoting needs-based support for children and young people
Before the onset of COVID-19, 18 million children in the EU were at risk of poverty – a number that has very likely risen due to the disproportionate economic impact of the pandemic. Last week, the European Commission adopted the Child Guarantee to uphold the rights of children and support children in need. As child poverty becomes an increasingly pressing problem across the EU, the inclusive and participatory nature of the Child Guarantee and its provisions for funding opportunities will be important tools to fight the social exclusion of vulnerable children. Nevertheless, taking the whole family’s situation into account is imperative to break the cycle of poverty across generations. Furthermore, supporting children to transition into independent adults once they reach legal age is critical.
Ensuring equal access to essential services is decisive in overcoming discrimination and inequality at an early age. However, it is far from reality that all children have equal access to essential services like education, health care, culture and leisure activities. Indeed, migrant children often lack access to basic services – particularly if they do not have refugee status or a residence permit. Children with disabilities are also often exposed to social exclusion and face limited access to education and social services. Focusing on the gaps in service provision is crucial to identifying and overcoming barriers and inequalities in access to services. For example, the Swedish Red Cross’ My Future Counts is centred around safeguarding the wellbeing of young people from a holistic perspective, helping to overcome the barriers that young migrants face in accessing basic services and protection, including housing.
The inclusivity visible throughout the Child Guarantee is vital to ensuring that all children, regardless of their status, can benefit from services to support their development and address their needs. Its participatory nature, which emphasises ascertaining the opinions and views of children, is also an important contributor to its potential to improve children’s lives across the EU. Bureaucratic obstacles and one-sided programmes often prevent children from receiving much needed support. Sometimes, poorly designed and implemented services aiming to improve the situation of disadvantaged children lead to the opposite, resulting in stigmatisation or the enforcement of social exclusion. The needs of service users thus have to be at the centre of child-related programmes and policies, considering their rights and specific situation, and enabling flexibility and tailor-made solutions. In Finland, youth shelters, run by the Finnish Red Cross offer individualised around-the-clock assistance to young people in time of a personal or family crisis.
However, focussing on children alone is insufficient when aiming to tackle child poverty. Important aspects for the wellbeing of children, like appropriate housing and nutrition, cannot be isolated from the family being able to provide for it. The Red Cross offers a wide range of family and parental support programmes to support families in their care taking responsibilities. For example, the Austrian Red Cross’ school starter programme provides school material for children from precarious households, but also information, advice and counselling for their families. By disregarding the family situation, support measures within the Child Guarantee will only result in short-term improvements that won’t end poverty or social exclusion for the child in the long run.
Moreover, the specific difficulties for children who are transitioning from state care systems to independent life at 18 years old needs more attention. Turning 18 is a crucial moment for young people who are dependent on support. In many Member States, these measures end immediately after young people reach legal age, which often results in destabilisation, in some cases even in homelessness. The quality of the services they receive will decide how well-equipped young people are when they leave their support system. To ensure a secure transition into an independent life, additional measures must be available for young people after they have reached legal age.
The funding made available through the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+), the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), and the InvestEU programme, will be key to providing impactful assistance to children in need across Europe, especially considering the longer-term socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. By financing childcare, education or health facilities, gaps in social services provision can be tackled and children and families at risk of social exclusion can be supported. National Red Cross Societies will continue to contribute their wealth of experience with child-focused initiatives, and work with all stakeholders to respond to the growing challenges facing children and their families in a more holistic manner.
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