On the 4th of March 2022, the Ministers in charge of Family and Children Affairs of the 27 Member States of the European Union (EU) gathered in Paris, hosted by the French Presidency of the Council of the EU. The aim of this conference was to monitor the national implementation of the European Child Guarantee, a brand new social policy launched in 2021 by the EU to prevent and fight child poverty and social exclusion in Europe. Don Bosco International (DBI), together with SOS Children’s Villages International (SOS-CVI) and other civil society organizations, was entrusted with the task of ensuring high-quality child participation within the framework of this conference. Thanks to the coordination of DBI, children, and educators from Salesiani per il Sociale (Italy), Plataformas Sociales Salesianas (Spain), and the Salesian Province of Malta were actively involved in this participatory process.
This conference was indeed the result of a long and behind-the-scenes preparatory process, started up by SOS Children’s Villages International and Don Bosco International in November 2021, at the request of the French Presidency team. Thanks to this partnership and to the adequate time available for the preparatory steps, civil society organizations made sure that safeguarding principles were in place and that child participation was real, preventing any risk of tokenism.
15 children from 8 European countries (Bulgaria, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Malta, Romania, Spain) were involved weeks before the Conference, thanks to the mediation of some partner civil society organizations that, just like DBI and SOS-CVI, are members of the EU Alliance for Investing in Children. Intersectional diversity and balance, in terms of age, gender, nationality, and social situation were accordingly ensured in building up this delegation. The conference’s organizers asked DBI and SOS-CVI to provide the representation of a wide range of social situations, among those explicitly mentioned in the Council Recommendation establishing the European Child Guarantee.
The aim of this Recommendation is to prevent and combat social exclusion by guaranteeing access of children in need to a set of key services, thereby also contributing to upholding the rights of the child by combating child poverty and fostering equal opportunities. It is recommended to the EU Member States that effective access is provided, free of charge, to: early childhood education and care; education and school-based activities; at least one healthy meal each school day; Healthcare. The Recommendation also suggests that the Member States provide children in need with effective access to healthy nutrition and adequate housing.
Within this framework, all the EU Member States are recommended to identify children in need and within this group take into account, wherever appropriate in designing their national integrated measures, specific disadvantages experienced, in particular, by: (a) homeless children or children experiencing severe housing deprivation; (b) children with disabilities; (c) children with mental health issues; (d) children with a migrant background or minority ethnic origin, particularly Roma; (e) children in alternative, especially institutional, care; (f) children in precarious family situations.
Salesian partners of DBI were able to activate the participation of Basma, Domenico, and Michaela, who were able to prepare and present both an artistic contribution and their point of view of the potential impact of the Child Guarantee in their life and in one of their families or local communities. The three children were accompanied to the conference and supported respectively by Marta, educator at Juan Sonador in Leon (Plataformas Sociales Salesianas, Spain), Patrizia, educator at Comunità 16 agosto in Bari (Salesiani per il Sociale, Italy) and Fr Antoine Farrugia, Salesian of Don Bosco from Senglea, Malta. Fr Antoine is also one of the Experts of DBI for Poverty and Social Inclusion, who actively contributed to the preparation of this conference from its very inception.
DBI and SOS-CVI prepared a toolkit for the children and their chaperones, to make sure they could understand the scope and the goals of the Child Guarantee, as well as the evaluation and point of view of the organized civil society at the EU level on this specific policy. A first online meeting was devoted to chaperons only, while two separate online meetings were organized with the active participation of the children. In order to make them feel comfortable with the virtual meeting, interactive icebreakers and break-out rooms by language were organized. Between the first and the second online meeting, homework was assigned to children and their chaperons, so that they could adequately prepare an artistic contribution to show to the Minister, a presentation to share with them, and/or a question to ask them. A final evaluation event online will finally take place a few days after the conference.
As experts on their own lives, children and young people can be empowered to participate in all matters that are important to them, such as the ones covered by the European Child Guarantee. Participating in advocacy activities like this one brings benefits at multiple levels: benefits for the individual participants, both directly and through improved policies and practices; benefits for their families and the local communities that are taking care of and supporting them; and benefits for the wider society through evolving attitudes and understanding, leading to progressive social change.
Through advocacy, children and young people can bring about improvements in program design and implementation, leading to programs and practices that better respond to their needs and local context. This is particularly important to children and young people in alternative care settings, whose quality of life and future opportunities are directly affected by the in-care, leaving care, and aftercare services they depend on. Furthermore, advocacy often plays a part in policy development, changing the overall direction of agencies, organizations and authorities to better serve the needs and respect the rights of children and young people.
Finally, advocacy makes organizations and authorities more accountable to those they serve, putting pressure on decision-makers to improve mechanisms for hearing children’s voices within society (or to create new mechanisms where these do not exist). In these difficult times, when children are even escaping war in European countries, we believe that this positive and constructive experience will generate further fruitful participatory process, at the benefit of children, their families, and communities, as well as the whole of society in Europe and beyond.
The conference also provided the occasion for the Member States to condemn the Russian Federation’s military aggression against Ukraine in the strongest terms, and to sign a joint statement on the situation of children in Ukraine. Click here to read more about this joint statement.