European Child Guarantee prioritises children in alternative care

But a stronger commitment to end institutionalisation of children in the EU is required

The European Expert Group on the Transition from Institutional to Community-Based Care (EEG) is a coalition representing children and their families, people with disabilities and their families, homeless people, people experiencing mental health problems, service providers, public authorities and UN organisations. The EEG members come together because we believe that the segregation and institutionalisation of all people must end.

Both the EU and its Member States are bound by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and all EU Member States are bound by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). To uphold the right to live independently and be included in the community, children have the right to grow up in a family.

EEG’s Reaction to the European Child Guarantee is available in pdf here.

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We welcome the adoption of the Council Recommendation establishing the European Child Guarantee that brings positive measures to lift children out of poverty and social exclusion. This is especially important considering that, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, 1 in 4 children in the EU were living at risk of poverty. Disadvantaged children, including children with disabilities, children outside family care and at risk of losing parental care, homeless children and children of ethnic or migrant background, children living in precarious family situations deserve an adequate and targeted support. The European Child Guarantee must aim to break the cycle of disadvantage for those children.

Years of research show that institutions inflict long-term harm to children’s development. Children growing up in institutions tend to lag behind in their emotional development; many tend to have poor cognitive performance and lower than average IQs. In addition, children in these settings are at higher risk of abuse or neglect. Despite this extensive evidence there are still an estimated 345,000 children living in institutions in the EU today[1].

As a matter of clarification, an institution for children is understood to be any residential setting where ‘institutional culture’prevails. Institutional culture in terms of children can be defined as follows:

• Children are isolated from the wider community and obliged to live together;

• Children and their parents do not have sufficient control over their lives and over decisions that affect them;

• The institution’s requirements take precedence over a child’s individual needs[2].

While the EEG recognizes that the Child Guarantee will prioritise children in alternative (especially institutional) care as one of the target groups of the Recommendation and that it envisages to promote quality of family and community based care, the EEG would have preferred a stronger commitment through the Child Guarantee to end the institutionalisation of children across the EU.

In 2012, the European Expert Group developed the Common European Guidelines on the Transition from Institutional to Community-based Care aimed at guiding practitioners in implementing and supporting a sustained transition from institutional care to family-based and community-based alternatives for children, persons with disabilities, persons with mental health problems and older persons in Europe[3]. These guidelines attempt to clarify terminology related to institutional care.

Unfortunately, different interpretations of some of the key terms remain. Despite having the issue of deinstitutionalisation high on the agenda of EU policies as well as EU funding for nearly 10 years[4], the newly published European Child Guarantee states in  

Recital 24 that:

With the aim of the de-institutionalisation of children, quality community-based or family-based care should be promoted. Placing children in institutional care should be done only when it is in the best interests of the child, taking into account the child’s overall situation and considering the child’s individual needs.

And in

Article 10d:

“(d) take into account the best interests of the child as well as the child’s overall situation and individual needs when placing children into institutional or foster care; ensure the transition of children from institutional or foster care to quality community-based or family-based care and support their independent living and social integration”.

In accordance with the ‘Suitability’ principle of the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children[5], the care setting in which children are placed needs to be one that protects and promotes the child’s full and harmonious development and is suitable for the child’s individual needs. The most natural environment for a child’s healthy development is in a family. Therefore, placement in alternative family-based care, such as with extended family members (kinship care) or with non-related families (foster care) is the preferred option.

The Guidelines further stress that countries should move away from placing children in institutions: “where large residential care facilities (institutions) remain, alternatives should be developed in the context of an overall deinstitutionalisation strategy, with precise goals and objectives, which will allow for their progressive elimination[6].

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which has been ratified by the European Union and all Member States, recognizes that the best interests of the child are a primary consideration in all decisions affecting them (Article 7(2)), requires States to protect the right to family life (Article 23) and to ensure all children have the right to be included in the community (Article 19). According to the General Comment No. 5, on Article 19 of the Convention, “[f]or children, the core of the right to be included in the community entails a right to grow up in a family.” Full implementation of the CRPD is especially important, considering that children with disabilities are overly represented in institutional care, largely due to the lack of family support services and outdated beliefs that they are better cared for in institutions.

Recital 24 seeks to restrict the circumstances in which children could be placed in institutional care by reflecting the elements which form the basis of the suitability principle. However, by failing to frame it within the deinstitutionalisation strategy and Child Guarantee Action Plans leaves space to Member States to institutionalise children with no end in sight, under the argument that it is for their best interest and that the child’s individual needs were considered.

Both recital 24 and Article 10d in the Child Guarantee constitute a limitation in an otherwise progressive and ambitious instrument.

Moreover, the current text of Article 10d is an attestation of the difficulties which arise when there is no unified definition of key terminology in this area as well as a lack of consensus of which different types of alternative care for children are acceptable. The term ‘alternative care’ is broad enough to include all forms of care for children.

Specifically on foster care and family-based care, it is important to underline that family-based care includes foster care. Therefore, asking for  the transition from foster care to family-based care is actually asking for the same thing with different words[7].  It is necessary to ensure that, when implementing the Child Guarantee, Member States will observe the difference between “institutional care” and “foster care”. Furthermore, the current wording is not in line with the Common provisions regulation[8] and the enabling conditions 4.3 for ERDF and EFS+ that states that “A national strategic policy framework for social inclusion and poverty reduction is in place that includes: Measures for the shift from institutional to community-based care”.

In order to avoid similar situations as this one, it is important to work on common European definitions on alternative care for children and to agree on a  clear set of indicators which can be used to measure progress in the de-institutionalisation strategies of Member States. The EEG offers its expertise to be a part of this process to ensure that no child is placed in institutional care.


[1] Speech by Commissioner Dalli “Towards Inclusion 2020: What is the vision of the future of deinstitutionalisation and role of EU?” | European Commission (europa.eu)

[2] Further information can be found in Guidelines-new.indd (wordpress.com) and eeg-di-report-2020-1.pdf (wordpress.com)

[3] Guidelines-new.indd (wordpress.com)

[4] See: https://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/policy/themes/social-inclusion/desinstit/. See also the “Špidla Report” available at: https://deinstitutionalisationdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/report-fo-the-ad-hoc_2009.pdf andUnion of equality: Strategy for the rights of persons with disabilities 2021-2030 – Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion – European Commission (europa.eu)

[5] Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children : (un.org)

[6] Ibid, p. 5.

[7] You can find the precise definition of alternative care for children here: https://www.unicef.org/eca/definitions.

[8] EUR-Lex – 52018PC0375 – EN – EUR-Lex (europa.eu)

Endnote

The Reaction has been also endorsed by the following oganisations, partners of the EU Alliance for Investing in Children:

  • Dynamo International
  • European Anti-Poverty Network – EAPN
  • European Parents’ Association
  • European Public Health Alliance – EPHA
  • European Roma Grassroots Organisations – ERGO Network
  • Make Mothers Matter
  • Save the Children

Contact:

EEG’s coordinator, Bárbara Oliveira Marcondes, coordinator@deinstitutionalisation.com.

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Impacts on the process of transition from institutional to family and community-based care in light of the Common Provisions Regulations, the European Regional Development Funds, and the European Social Funds + (2021-2027)

During the funding period 2014-2020, EU funds have played a crucial role in bringing persons with disabilities, children, older people and homeless people out of institutions. Despite this advances, progress still must be made, since there have been cases reported where the principles of deinstitutionalisation have not been respected and where money was invested in building or refurbishing institutional care settings.

In order to ensure EU funds are not used to promote institutionalisation in EU Member States, the EEG and its member organisations have advocated to influence the wording in the texts of the Common Provisions Regulation (CPR) and the European Regional Development Funds (ERDF).

The aim of this article is to highlight the successful advocacy work done by the EEG and its members, which were taken into account in the final texts of both the CPR and the ERDF and to point out some of the articles that are particularly relevant to the EEG.

The full article is available in pdf here.

What are the CPR, the ERDF, and the ESF+

The Common Provisions Regulation (CPR) is a piece of over-arching legislation that applies to various EU funding programmes, including the European Social Fund + (ESF+) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). It outlines rules that must be followed for the use of funds. It also outlines the criteria by which projects must adhere to be eligible for EU funding. The CPR sets out common provisions for seven shared management: the Cohesion Fund, the European Maritime funds and Fisheries Fund, the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund Plus, the Asylum and Migration Fund, the Border Management and Visa Instrument and the Internal Security Fund.

The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) invests in infrastructure, innovation and research, the digital agenda, support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the low-carbon economy. The aim is to strengthen economic and social cohesion in the European Union by correcting imbalances between its regions.

As for the European Social Fund plus (ESF+), this is Europe’s main instrument to invest in people. The aim of the fund is to supports jobs, help people get better jobs and ensure fairer job opportunities for all EU citizens. The ESF+ finances the implementation of the principles from the European Pillar for Social Rights through actions in the area of employment, education & skills and social inclusion.[1] The fund is committed to building a socially inclusive society.

In 2018 the European Commission released its proposal for a new CPR, ERDF and ESF+ covering the period 2021-2027. In December 2020/January 2021 an agreement was reached between the European Parliament and the Council on the final wording of the Regulations.

The EEG and its members advocated extensively for the Regulations to include a number of provisions that would result in the Regional Development Fund being used more effectively for accessibility and deinstitutionalisation for persons with disabilities.

Relevant achievements to the EEG

We summarised the main advocacy achievements in the final texts of the CPR, the ERDF, and the ESF+. We will show you excerpts of the regulations to explain what the texts now look like. Writing in bold and italic indicated where new next has been added since the Commission’s original proposal was released. Where you see text in bold with a strike through, this shows text that used to exist but has been removed from the final version.

Common Provisions Regulation (CPR)[2]

  • Article 67, on the selection of operations by the managing authority, outlines the ways in which managing authorities shall go about selecting EU funded operations.

The final text states that the criteria and the procedures should be non-discriminatory. After advocacy work from the EEG, it also states clearly that the criteria and procedures must “ensure accessibility to persons with disabilities” as well as gender equality. This means that for all funding covered by the CPR, managing authorities must consider the impact it will have on accessibility for persons with disabilities and systematically turn away anything that perpetuates barriers. This is important because ensuring community living and inclusion means ensuring infrastructure and processes are accessible to all.

Final text of Article 67:

1. For the selection of operations, the managing authority shall establish and apply criteria and procedures which are non-discriminatory, transparent, ensure accessibility to persons with disabilities, gender equality and take account of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the principle of sustainable development and of the Union policy on the environment […]

  • Article 6 on partnership and multi-level governance explains how different stakeholders are included in selecting and monitoring how funds are used. It explains that this process should include “relevant bodies representing civil society, such as environmental partners, non-governmental organisations, and bodies responsible for promoting social inclusion, fundamental rights, rights of persons with disabilities, gender equality and non-discrimination”.

The EEG also successfully advocated for the article to mention that funds should be allocated towards capacity building for these stakeholders. This will mean that money should be able to be allocated to civil society organisations that want to be part of the partnership and multi-level governance process in their Member State, and to help them be better prepared for playing an active role.

Final text of Article 6:

1. For the Partnership Agreement and each programme, each Member State shall organise and implement a comprehensive partnership in accordance with its institutional and legal framework and taking into account the specificities of the Funds with the competent regional and local authorities. That partnership shall include at least the following partners:

(c) relevant bodies representing civil society, such as environmental partners, non-governmental organisations, and bodies responsible for promoting social inclusion, fundamental rights, rights of persons with disabilities, gender equality and non-discrimination.

2. The partnership established under paragraph 1 shall operate in accordance with the multi-level governance principle and a bottom-up approach. The Member State shall involve those partners in the preparation of Partnership Agreements and throughout the preparation and, implementation and evaluation of programmes including through participation in monitoring committees.

In that context, Member States shall, where relevant, allocate an appropriate percentage of the resources coming from the Funds for the administrative capacity building of social partners and civil society organisations. For Interreg programmes, the Partnership shall include partners from all participating Member States.

4. At least once a year, the Commission shall consult organisations which represent partners at Union level on the implementation of programmes, and shall report to the European Parliament and Council on the outcome.

  • Recital 5, at the beginning of the Regulation, gives an overview of the horizontal principles of how the funds covered by the CPR should be used. The Commission’s original proposal already stated that Member States should “respect the obligations of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and ensure accessibility in line with its article 9 and in accordance with the Union law harmonising accessibility requirements for products and services.” This has been retained in the final wording.

To this the co-legislators agreed to add the importance of respecting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. For persons with disabilities, the most significant additions were the mention that “the Funds should be implemented in a way that promotes the transition from institutional to family and community-based care” and that, when financing infrastructure, the funds “should ensure accessibility for persons with disabilities”.

Final text of Recital 5:

(5) Horizontal principles as set out in Article 3 of the Treaty on the European Union (‘TEU’) and in Article 10 of the TFEU, including principles of subsidiarity and proportionality as set out in Article 5 of the TEU should be respected in the implementation of the Funds, taking into account the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Member States should also respect the obligations of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and ensure accessibility in line with its article 9 and in accordance with the Union law harmonising accessibility requirements for products and services. In that context, the Funds should be implemented in a way that promotes the transition from institutional to family and community-based care. Member States and the Commission should aim at eliminating inequalities and at promoting equality between men and women and integrating the gender perspective, as well as at combating discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. The Funds should not support actions that contribute to any form of segregation or exclusion, and, when financing infrastructure, should ensure the accessibility for persons with disabilities.

Final text of the “Thematic Enabling Conditions” (Annex IV)

Policy objectiveSpecific objectiveName of enabling conditionFulfilment criteria for the enabling condition
4 -A more social Europe by implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights  ERDF: 4.3 increasing the socioeconomic integration of marginalised communities, migrants and disadvantaged groups, through integrated measures including housing and social services (…)National strategic policy framework for social inclusion and poverty reduction (…)A national strategic policy framework for social inclusion and poverty reduction is in place that includes:  (…) 3. Measures for the shift from institutional to community-based care   4. Arrangements for ensuring that its design, implementation, monitoring and review is conducted in close cooperation with social partners and relevant civil society organisations. (…)
4 -A more social Europe by implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights  ERDF: 4.4 ensuring equal access to health care through developing infrastructure, including primary care (…)Strategic policy framework for health. (…)A national or regional strategic policy framework for health is in place that contains: (…) 3. Measures to promote community-based services, including prevention and primary care, home-care and community-based services. (…)

As laid down in the table above, a more social Europe through the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights is one of the policy objectives listed. One of the ERDF specific objectives, it is to increase “the socioeconomic integration of marginalised communities, migrants and disadvantaged groups, through integrated measures including housing and social services”. This shall be done through a national strategic policy framework for social inclusion and poverty reduction in place that includes “3. Measures for the shift from institutional to community-based care”; and  “4. Arrangements for ensuring that its design, implementation, monitoring and review is conducted in close cooperation with social partners and relevant civil society organisations”.

Still on the policy objective for a more social Europe through the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, One of the ERDF specific objectives, it is to ensure “equal access to health care through developing infrastructure, including primary care”. This shall be done by a national or regional strategic policy framework for health that, amongst others, contain “Measures to promote community-based services, including prevention and primary care, home-care and community-based services.”

Important to note that table above only contains the most relevant information for the work of the EEG.

European Regional Development Funds (ERDF)[3]

Article 2 on Specific objectives for the ERDF and the Cohesion Fund outlines the objectives for the use of this fund and the Cohesion fund. It is an article of key importance giving direction to how the money will be used in the Member States.

The most crucial amendment the EEG wa able to get accepted into the text were the mention of the need to invest in “promoting the transition from institutional to family- and community-based care”.

Final text of Article 2:

  1. In accordance with the policy objectives set out in Article [4(1)] of Regulation (EU) 2018/xxxx[new CPR], the ERDF shall support the following specific objectives:

(iv) ensuring equal access to health care and fostering resilience of health systems, including primary care, and promoting the transition from institutional to family- and community-based care;

Article 6 on exclusion from the scope of the ERDF and the Cohesion Fund was one of the key areas of the EEG’s advocacy on the ERDF. One of the biggest issues we have seen with the use of funds over previous funding periods is that money is still invested in renovating and building institutions. In this article on what is excluded from the scope of the ERDF and the Cohesion Fund, we were successful in having a new recital introduced. This recital states that the ERDF should support deinstitutionalisation, prevent funding segregated living conditions and seek to ensure independent living conditions.

Article 6 final text:

new recital (x) The ERDF should support and promote transition from institutional to community or family-based care through supporting facilities that would seek to prevent segregation from the community, would facilitate the integration of people to the society and would seek to ensure independent living conditions.

European Social Funds Plus (ESF+)[4]

The EEG is pleased to see that 2021-2027 funding regulations for the European Social Fund plus (ESF+) have recognised the transition from institutional to family- and community-based care as the issue that deserve investments. Moreover, the ESF+ will become one of the main tools to trigger investments to tackle child poverty and social exclusion.

The greatest achievement among all, is the Council Recommendation establishing the European Child Guarantee. The agreement foresees that 5% of this budget will be used to tackle child poverty. This means that EU member states with an average of EU child poverty higher than the EU average of 23.4% will have to allocate at least 5% of their ESF+ financial resources to fight child poverty and social exclusion. Children in institutions, children with disabilities and homeless children are among the main target groups.

Although we have advocated for higher percentage the European Social Fund plus should invest 25% of its resources for social inclusion as indicated in Article 7 on thematic concentration:

Final text of Article 7 (3) – Consistency and thematic concentration

3.  Member States shall allocate at least 25% of their ESF+ resources under shared management to the specific objectives for the social inclusion policy area set out in points (vii) to (x) of Article 4(1), including the promotion of the socio-economic integration of third country nationals.

Article 7, (3)  is an important progress since no ring-fencing of ESF for social inclusion was in 2014-2020 funding period.

Finally, meaningful involvement of civil society in programming, implementation, and evaluation of ESF+ is key to deliver the best possible outcomes. Therefore, we are pleased to see that partnership is reiterated (Article 8) as well as support for capacity building of stakeholders including CSOs by 0,25% of ESF+ resources:

Final text of Article 8 – Partnership

  1. Each Member State shall ensure adequate participation of social partners and civil society organisations in the delivery of employment, education and social inclusion policies supported by the ESF+ strand under shared management.
  2. Member States shall allocate an appropriate amount of ESF+ resources under shared management in each programme for the capacity building of social partners and civil society organisations, including in the form of training, networking measures, and strengthening of the social dialogue, and to activities jointly undertaken by the social partners.

When capacity building of social partners and civil society organisations is identified by a relevant country-specific recommendation adopted in accordance with Article 121(2) TFEU and Article 148(4) TFEU, the concerned Member State shall allocate an appropriate amount of at least 0.25% of ESF+ resources for that purpose.


[1] https://ec.europa.eu/esf/main.jsp?catId=62&langId=en.

[2] Available at: https://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-6180-2021-INIT/en/pdf.

[3] Available at: https://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-6181-2021-INIT/en/pdf.

[4] Available at: https://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-6182-2021-INIT/en/pdf.

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The EEG endorses the Manifesto on Child Poverty and Social Exclusion in the EU

The EEG has endorsed the European Parliament – EU Alliance for Investing in Children Manifesto on Child Poverty and Social Exclusion in the EU.

On the topic of deinstitutionalisation of children, the Manifesto calls on the Child Guarantee to not present the placement of children in institutional care as a last resort. Instead, EU Member States should invest in child protection, high quality support services starting from early childhood interventions to support families and prevent separation, and the provision of quality community- and family-based alternative care. Adequate services should be provided to prepare children leaving care in order to support their independent living and social integration, including for unaccompanied migrant children.

The placement of children in emergency shelters should also be avoided. To prevent and address homelessness, EU Member States should provide stable and adequate housing for children and their families, accompanied by social support services.

The full Manifesto is available here.

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Recovery and Resilience Facility must support community inclusion, not segregation

As some Members States have already submitted their National Recovery and Resilience Plans (NRRPs) to the European Commission and others will soon submit, the European Expert Group on the Transition from Institutional to Community-based Care (EEG) sees the need to re-emphasize that there should be no investments in institutions in the NRRPs. Focus should be given to forward social reforms to promote social inclusion and robust investments into family- and community-based care and support.

The EEG reminds that commitments have been made by the European Union and several Member States towards the deinstitutionalisation process in recent years, and they must be compliant with the UNCRPD. However, when analysing the National Recovery and Resilience draft Plans of 10 Member States, we found clear references of investments to build, refurbish and increase the capacity of institutions in some of these Plans.

Therefore, the EEG calls on the European Union and its Member States to not invest in institutions in the NRRPs.

Read the full statement here.

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The EEG endorses the EU Alliance Statement on the European Commission’s proposal for a Council Recommendation establishing the Child Guarantee

The European Expert Group on the Transition from Institutional to Community-based Care (EEG) has endorsed the EU Alliance for Investing in Children’s statement on the European Commission’s proposal for a Council Recommendation establishing the Child Guarantee.

Read the full statement below:

EU Alliance for Investing in Children statement on the European Commission’s proposal for a Council Recommendation establishing the Child Guarantee

On 24 March, the European Commission launched its proposal for a Council Recommendation establishing the Child Guarantee[1].

As identified in the European Commission’s proposal and press release, 18 million children or 22,2% of children in the EU were growing up at risk of poverty and social exclusion, before COVID-19. This figure will increase further due to the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic.

This means that almost 1 in 4 children in the EU are growing up without eating a daily hot, nutritious meal, or they live in inadequate housing conditions. 1 in 4 children are unable to fully attend school due to hidden and extra costs such as school trips or school meals, they cannot participate in sports or other activities like their peers and do not receive the healthcare that they need. 1 in 4 children in the EU grow up in vulnerable families that need support to break the cycle of poverty and provide for their children.

The EU Alliance for Investing in Children welcomes the European Commission’s ambitious proposal on the Council Recommendation establishing the Child Guarantee. The Alliance particularly welcomes the proposal for national Action Plans, the enabling policy framework that will allow EU Member States to take a comprehensive approach in tackling child and family poverty when implementing the Child Guarantee as well as the strong reference to the use of EU funds (ESF+, ERDF, REACT-EU, RRF, InvestEU and the Technical Assistance Support) and national budgets in implementing the measures outlined in the Child Guarantee Action Plans.

It is now up to the EU Member States to prove that the EU’s youngest population gets the support they need to thrive and reach their full potential.

The Alliance calls on the Council of the EU to:

  • Adopt the Child Guarantee Council Recommendation as a matter of priority.

Child poverty is unacceptable as it is a condition that severely violates the rights of children. It is even more unacceptable in one of the world’s wealthiest regions. Therefore, the EU Alliance calls on EU Member States to prioritise child poverty reduction as a matter of urgency and to adopt the Child Guarantee Council Recommendation under the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU.

  • Ensure that the Child Guarantee starts being implemented within six months from the adoption of the Child Guarantee Council Recommendation.

The Alliance welcomes the European Commission’s proposal that each EU Member State submits a Child Guarantee Action Plan covering the period until 2030, within six months from the adoption of the Child Guarantee Council Recommendation. The Child Guarantee Action Plans will allow the Council Recommendation to become implementable and will showcase the challenges, as well as the measures that EU Member States will take to tackle child poverty at the national, regional and local level.

The Alliance also welcomes the proposal for Child Guarantee National Coordinators equipped with adequate resources and mandates, who will effectively coordinate and monitor the implementation of the Recommendation.

The Alliance calls on EU Member States to adopt the Commission’s proposal and to ensure that the Child Guarantee starts being implemented within six months from the adoption of the Child Guarantee by having the Child Guarantee Action Plans submitted and the national Child Guarantee coordinators in place. Child Guarantee Action Plans must be reviewed on a regular basis in consultation with relevant stakeholders.

The Alliance also calls on the Council to strengthen the following parts of the European Commission’s proposal, ensuring that:

  • Stakeholders as well as children and parents participate meaningfully in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the Action Plans.

The Alliance welcomes the European Commission’s proposal that EU Member States should consult stakeholders, including civil society organisations and children in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the Child Guarantee Action Plans.

The Alliance calls on EU Member States to further strengthen this proposal to ensure that children participate meaningfully in the action plans’ development, including through dedicated outreach measures targeting the most vulnerable of them. Specifically, we call on the Council to include a new part calling EU Member States to:

“Put in place mechanisms that promote children’s meaningful and rights-based participation in decision-making that affects their lives and in particular in relation to the fulfilment of the Child Guarantee. Develop structures to promote the meaningful participation of children in need in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the Child Guarantee Action Plans and relevant frameworks developed as part of these plans as well as in the annual reporting of EU Member States to the European Commission”.

In addition, the Alliance for Investing in Children calls on the Council to also include parents among the stakeholders to be consulted on the Child Guarantee Action Plans.

  • Access to healthy nutrition should not be only linked to school settings. 

The Alliance welcomes the emphasis given by the European Commission’s proposal to ensure that children in need have adequate, sustainable access to healthy nutrition, in particular considering that, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of schools, many children have suddenly been deprived of a reliable source of nutrition.

However, considering that children, from age 0 to 18, only spend 20% of their lifetime in formal settings, the Alliance calls on the Council to strengthen the European Commission’s proposal and add a new paragraph emphasising the necessity to support access to healthy meals also outside of the school system.

“EU Member States should set up a comprehensive framework regarding children’s access to healthy nutrition and ensure where needed direct distribution of free meals to children and their families such as soup kitchens, social cafeteria and door to door deliveries. Parents must also be empowered to provide healthy and nutritious meals for their children, including through in-kind or financial support”.

  • Children have equal opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities – not only in school-based activities.

Sport, leisure and cultural activities play a crucial role in the personal and social development of children. Yet, children in need often face financial barriers to participate in these activities, or non-financial barriers such as the lack of proper infrastructures, language obstacles, discrimination or lack of qualified personnel. The Alliance welcomes the European Commission’s proposal to ensure equal and inclusive access to school-based activities. On the other hand, it is important to consider that in numerous Member States schools do not have the capacity or the infrastructure to ensure such activities, that it would be important to ensure children’s access to such activities also on days in which schools are closed, and that there are children who are receiving different kinds of education outside of the national school system and that would consequently be excluded.

Hence, the Alliance calls on the Council to strengthen the European Commission’s proposal and to include in the Recommendation children’s effective access to also sports, leisure and cultural activities organised outside of the school system and the school curricula.

  • EU Member States set ambitious targets in their fight against child poverty. 

The European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan sets a target to lift at least 5 million children out of poverty by 2030. Although the target goes in the right direction, it could have been more ambitious.

The Alliance welcomes the European Commission’s proposal that each EU Member State should present qualitative and quantitative targets in their Child Guarantee Action Plans. It calls on EU Member States to adopt ambitious targets that will exceed the European Commission’s target by taking into consideration the impact of COVID-19 and their commitment to implement the Sustainable Development Goals which call on States to half poverty in all its forms by 2030.

Sub-targets covering regional and local disparities also should be developed for each area of the Child Guarantee Council Recommendation, i.e. children’s effective free and access to early childhood education and care, all forms of inclusive education, healthcare, including maternal health care, effective access to sufficient and healthy nutrition, and effective access to adequate housing.

  • The Child Guarantee is properly monitored and feeds into the European Semester annually.

An efficient system of monitoring and evaluation will be essential to ensure the Child Guarantee is an implementable instrument that triggers concrete reforms within the national and local systems.

The Alliance welcomes the European Commission’s proposal to monitor the implementation of the Recommendation in the context of the European Semester and the revised Social Scoreboard, including through the development of relevant monitoring indicators.

The Alliance stands ready to support the European Commission and the Social Protection Committee in this important task and calls on these two EU bodies to ensure that indicators are disaggregated and take into account children in need, including homeless children or children experiencing severe housing deprivation; children with  disabilities; children with a migrant background; children with a minority, racial or ethnic background (particularly Roma); children in alternative (especially institutional) care; children of single-parent families; as well as children in precarious situations as defined in the European Commission’s proposal on the Child Guarantee Council Recommendation.[2]

In addition, all relevant indicators should be disaggregated to better align with the areas identified by the European Commission’s proposal, i.e. children’s free and effective access to all forms of education, early childhood education and care, healthcare, effective access to adequate nutrition and decent housing, as well as children’s access to leisure, sports and cultural activities within or outside the school settings and school curricula. Finally, all relevant indicators should be disaggregated at local level, where it is possible, to have a clearer figure of the territorial differences and to better plan and monitor the implementation of the Recommendation.

The Alliance calls on the Council to adopt the European Commission’s proposal and to ensure the monitoring of the Recommendation through the well-established policy coordination framework of the European Semester. To further strengthen this proposal, the Alliance calls on EU Member States to annually report to the European Commission on the progress made in implementing the Recommendation and this reporting to feed into the annual Country Specific Recommendations.

  • Support a child rights approach in tackling poverty and the fight against all forms of discrimination, segregation and bullying of children and their families when trying to access key rights, resources, and services.

The European Pillar of Social Rights reaffirms the commitment to mainstream equal opportunities in all relevant policy fields, and to build a Union of Equality, where children should reach their full potential.

The EU Alliance also welcomes the rights-based approach taken by the European Commission in the Child Guarantee proposal.

However, for all categories of children in need identified by the proposal for a Child Guarantee Recommendation, discrimination is an important deterrent to wellbeing, both in itself, leading to emotional distress and isolation, as well as in impeding effective access to income and services.

Segregation in housing, education, healthcare, and other aspects of life also breeds a sectioned view of society, which fuels inequalities and poverty. Stigmatization based on ethnic or racial origin, disability, socio-economic background, and other criteria significantly contributes to non-take-up of benefits and services by those who most need them.

We call on EU Member States to take a bold stance against all forms of discrimination on all grounds, including intersectional discrimination, and concerning all groups of children. Preventive, targeted and proactive measures are needed to alter public perceptions and prevalent misrepresentations, through comprehensive anti-bias measures and specific training for services and local authorities, as well as through ensuring diversity in the staff.

  • Ensure that no child is placed in institutions and reinforce the transition from institutional to community-based care.

The Alliance wants to emphasise that all language and activities as described in the European Child Guarantee should be in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children (UNCRC), the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), and all EU policies and legislation.

In this regard, EU Member States should not allow the placement of children in institutional care or emergency shelters even as a last resort (wording proposed by the European Commission in recital 24). Extensive evidence shows that institutions can inflict long-term harms to children’s development and expose them to all manner of human rights abuses.

Therefore, to reinforce the proposal and to ensure it is in line with the EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child, the Alliance calls on the Council to amend Recital 24 as follows:

“Aiming at ensuring adequate protection and care for all children without or at risk of losing parental care, family support, quality community and family-based care should be promoted and the transition from institutions to quality alternative care should be actively pursued. Adequate services should also be provided to prepare children leaving care in order to support their independent living and social integration, including for unaccompanied migrant children”.

The Recommendation and national Action plans should thus promote the development and funding of high-quality family and community-based care and support services with a family-centred, community-based model of support.

The Statement is available in pdf here.

Endnote

The EU Alliance for Investing in Children has been advocating for a multidimensional, rights-based approach to tackling child poverty and promoting child well-being since 2014. This statement was endorsed by the following partner organisations of the EU Alliance for Investing in Children:

  • Alliance for Childhood European Network Group
  • ATD Quart Monde
  • Caritas Europa
  • COFACE Families Europe
  • Don Bosco International
  • Dynamo International – Street Workers Network
  • ERGO Network
  • Eurochild
  • Eurodiaconia
  • EuroHealthNet
  • European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities – EASPD
  • European Anti-Poverty Network – EAPN
  • European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless – FEANTSA
  • European Parents’ Association
  • European Public Health Alliance – EPHA
  • European Social Network – ESN
  • Inclusion Europe
  • Lifelong Learning Platform
  • Lumos
  • Mental Health Europe
  • Make Mothers Matter
  • Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM)
  • Roma Education Fund
  • Save the Children
  • SOS Children’s Villages International.

The statement was also endorsed by The European Expert Group on the transition from institutional to community-based support (EEG).

If you would like to get in touch with the EU Alliance for investing in children, please contact
:

[1] Commission proposes action to uphold child rights and support children in need – Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion – European Commission (europa.eu)

[2] ‘children in precarious family situations’ means children exposed to various risk factors leading to social exclusion, such as: living in a single-parent household; living with a parent with a disability; living in a household where there are mental health problems or long-term illness; living in a household where there is substance abuse, or domestic violence; children of a Union citizen who has moved to another Member State and who themselves remained in their Member State of origin; children having a teenage mother or being a teenage mother; children having an imprisoned parent.

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EEG’s Response to the EU Disability Strategy 2021-2030

The European Commission has recently released the new EU Disability Rights Strategy for the period 2021 to 2030. This follows up to the previous ten-year Strategy that was launched in 2010.

In light of the recently published document, the EEG has written a Response to the EU Disability Rights Strategy 2021-2030 highlighting what the new Strategy brings in relation to deinstitutionalisation, as well as some reflections and recommendations.

The new Disability Strategy proposes several actions that are connected to deinstitutionalisation, such as:

  • issuing guidance recommending improvements for Member States on independent living and inclusion in the community,
  • presenting a framework for Social Services of Excellence for persons with disabilities,
  • conducting a study on social protection and services for persons with disabilities,
  • issuing a toolkit for inclusion in early childhood education and care.

For each of these actions, the EEG has drafted recommendations to both the European Commission and Member States to consider in their implementation of the Strategy.

The full version of the EEG’s Response to the EU Disability Rights Strategy 2021-2030 with all EEG’s recommendations is available here.

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EEG’s reaction to the Social Pillar Action Plan

The European Commission has published in March of 2021 the long-awaited European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan, which aims to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights by 2025.

In light of the recently published document, the EEG has written a reaction highlighting the progress brought up by the Action Plan in bringing people out of institutional care, as well as the points in which the Plan could has aimed at more ambitious targets.

An important point to raise is that the Action Plan does not include any reference to the continuation of deinstitutionalisation. Given that more than 1,4 million people still live in institutions, the EEG calls for the continuation of the processes of transition from institutional to family and community-based care.

The Action Plan touches upon several areas that are connected to deinstitutionalisation, namely employment, annual training of staff, and poverty and social exclusion, the work-life balance, homelessness and investments in health and care workforce.

As for the Revised Social Scoreboard, the EEG welcomes indicators regarding the ‘disability employment gap’, the ‘housing cost overburden’, and ‘the at-risk-of-poverty rate or exclusion for children (0—17) indicator’. We regret, however, that a ‘deinstitutionalisation indicator’ has not been added to the Action Plan.

The EEG will keep its commitment to monitor and assess both the implementation of the Action Plan as well as the use of EU funds. We want to ensure no money is spent on building new institutions or ‘greening’ existing institutions for adults and children. Rather, social rights will be fulfilled by the development and the deployment of qualitative affordable, accessible community-based services.

Read the full statement here.

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EEG Position Paper on the Action Plan of the European Pillar of Social Rights

In light of the proposed list of actions within the Action Plan of the EU Pillar of Social Rights, the European Expert Group on the Transition from Institutional to Community-Based Care has outlined the concrete ways in which the EU Pillar of Social Rights can pave the way for a future in which people in the EU are no longer placed in institutional care settings.

Read the full EEG Position Paper on the Action Plan of the European Pillar of Social Rights.

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The EU must prioritise social inclusion in its COVID-19 Recovery

Urgent call for targets and safeguards for investments in social inclusion and
the shift from institutional to community-based support

In the last years, the European Expert Group on the Transition from Institutional to Community-based Care (EEG) has closely followed and worked on the European Semester process to ensure that policies on the transition from institutional to community-based care would be adequately integrated and monitored in the process. Through constant and fruitful cooperation, the efforts of the EEG and other NGOs in the sector led, throughout the years, to a shift from a largely economic and budgetary focus of the European Semester to a more comprehensive process encompassing social issues and the inclusion of people in vulnerable situations.

Unfortunately, the structure of the new tool to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic – the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) – seems to suggest that social inclusion and protection will remain largely overlooked in the adapted European Semester. This would be an irremissible oversight to the detriment of adults and children that are already most susceptible to social exclusion.

The EEG urgently calls for the European Union and its Member States to include targets and safeguards for investments in social inclusion and community-based care in the RRF.

Read the full statement here.

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EEG Open Meeting: “The Place of deinstitutionalisation in the Post 2020 EU Regulations and Funding Framework”

On the occasion of its 10th anniversary, the European Expert Group on the transition from institutional to community-based care (EEG) invited key stakeholders to discuss the situation of deinstitutionalisation in the Post 2020 EU Regulations and Funding Framework. Opened by Irene Bertana, Policy and Advocacy Officer of COFACE Europe and EEG co-chair, the online meeting on 28 October brought together participants from the European Commission, EU national governments and permanent representations, as well as civil society and intergovernmental organisations.

Deinstitutionalisation is a key obligation embedded in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) which was signed and ratified by all EU Member States and the EU itself. In line with the right to independent living in the UNCRPD, as well as the right of children to live with their families as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), Member States need to make all efforts to ensure the closure of institutional care services; this includes any residential setting where persons are isolated from the community and/or forced to live together, and do not have sufficient control over their lives and the decisions that affect them. This needs to be replaced with family- and community-based support that is person-centred and empowering.

The work towards deinstitutionalisation (DI) is particularly important in the light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. As outlined by Jana Hainsworth, Eurochild Secretary General, the outbreak highlighted the risks for health and life of residents in institutions such as overcrowding, poor hygienic conditions, forced medication and restraint[1]. Particularly worrying are Eurochild observations of re-institutionalisation of children. Civil society therefore previously called upon the EU and its Member States to strengthen the provision of community-based services. The pandemic has ‘unveiled’ levels of inequality and social exclusion and this should be used to trigger long-term DI policy reforms.[2]

According to Hainsworth, the Covid-19 pandemic also made it difficult to monitor the use of EU funds as emergency measures. Sabrina Ferraina from the European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD) observed that the social care sector, having reacted flexibly to the new challenges, now is on the verge of crisis where the funding needs to be addressed swiftly after being de-prioritised. Indeed, Maria-Anna Paraskeva, Senior Policy Expert at DG EMPL mentioned that the two key Coronavirus Response Investment Initiatives (CRII, CRII+) provided for greater flexibility in transferring resources where most needed and have temporarily removed the thematic concentration criteria for social inclusion. Following these changes, many Member States revised their financial programming with the objectives to primarily protect employment, to promote health and continued access to services, and allow for distance learning.  The total amount of the European Social Fund (ESF) resources made available between July and September 2020 is estimated at EUR 3.2 billion. Within this context, it was also possible to transfer funds from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to the ESF (and vice-versa).

Beyond the Covid-19 outbreak, the meeting discussed systemic challenges in monitoring deinstitutionalisation processes. Andor Urmos, Policy Analist at DG REGIO, showed the importance of carefully analysing the funds that reinforce institutions, while acknowledging the need to give clear guidance on the DI transition and on which services and actions should be supported by EU funds. Ines Bulic Cojocariu, Deputy Director at the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL) presented findings from the current programming period (2014-2020), indicating that many EU Member States rather replaced large with small institutions. This was echoed by Jonas Ruskus, Expert Member of the Committee of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, when presenting the Committee’s inquiry regarding Hungary. Next to investments into new but smaller residential settings, many persons continue to work in “sheltered workshops” within institutions and the number of persons under guardianship actually increased. On the other hand, Ines Bulic Cojocariu continued that big gaps of investment into community-based services remain, such as personal assistance and accessible housing, as well as a persistent lack of involving organisations representing persons with disabilities in the deinstitutionalisation processes.

A key instrument that can accompany EU officials and desk officers in DI implementation and monitoring is the EEG and Hope & Homes for Children Checklist to ensure EU-funded measures contribute to independent living by developing and ensuring access to family-based and community-based services. Presented by Milan Sverepa, Director of Inclusion Europe, the Checklist aims to support EU desk officers and Member States in ensuring their programming goals and actions promote independent living. In practice, the Checklist includes guidelines on programming procedures and other relevant policy procedures (e.g. from setting the objectives of programming documents to ensuring all relevant stakeholders are involved in the decision-making process).

Yet, central negotiations at EU level can be considered an opportunity to boost deinstitutionalisation. Elena Schubert from the Social Affairs, Disability and Inclusion Unit at DG EMPL underlined the importance of the upcoming European Disability Rights Strategy 2021-2030 and the European Child Guarantee, particularly in light of the European Pillar of Social Rights. Beyond these key strategies, deinstitutionalisation will be especially taken into account in the ERDF and the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+), within the ongoing negotiations under the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF).

The meeting also showed the importance of linking desk officers with existing initiatives, such as the “UnLoc” initiative, represented by Elisabeta Moldovan in Romania, which supports persons leaving institutions to find apartments and employment. Elisabeta Moldovan herself lived in eight institutions for 25 years and is now active as a self-advocate. She outlined that many persons would like to leave institutions and she encouraged governments to increase their focus on initiatives that provide them with opportunities to live independently in the community. Aaron Greenberg, Senior Regional Advisor for Europe and Central Asia at UNICEF and EEG co-chair, closed the meeting by echoing the importance of really listening to people with direct experience of living in institutions and involving them at all levels and stages of the decision-making. The event positively showed that the importance of deinstitutionalisation is no longer at the core of discussions, but rather operational aspects (the how questions). In this respect, the EEG is happy to provide its expertise and jointly accompany desk officers and Member States in the transition process.

The EEG thanks all participants who have attended and contributed to the Open Meeting.


[1] EEG Joint Statement: “COVID-19 crisis: People living in institutions must not be written off”, 24th April 2020

[2] For similar analysis, the global Disability Rights Monitor recently launched its global report on how the Covid-19 pandemic particularly affected persons with disabilities worldwide: https://www.covid-drm.org/.

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