Published in the Borgen Magazine on May 8, 2020
According to the European Commission’s latest report, the children who grew up in poverty are more likely to suffer from social exclusion and health-related problems in their adult life than the average child born in the EU. These youngsters are less likely to develop to their full professional potential, create strong families and be an active part of the community.
This vicious circle creates even more children living in poverty and whole ghetto communities that are hard to integrate later on in society. Breaking the circle of social exclusion is a challenge, but the most accessible point to attack and end it is in the early years of childhood. The EU Commission research found out that investing in children through a preventative approach allows reducing the risk of poverty and social exclusion.
In 2012, 27 percent of the European children were at risk of poverty as 48 percent of the children in Bulgaria and 65 percent of the children in Romania were the most vulnerable. Five years later, child poverty declined to 23.4 percent on a European level, 38.1 percent in Romania and 33.7 percent in Bulgaria. These drastic changes in the rates of the poorest countries in the Union speak about good social policies and support to children.
Research showed that there are three major areas of concern that have to be addressed:
- disincentives deterring parents from working,
- inefficient or inadequate child and family benefits,
- lack of access to quality child care services.
To tackle these problems each member state had to address it on a local level following the guidance from the EU Commission– the Recommendation on Investing in children: breaking the cycle of disadvantage directive (2013). The document puts a spotlight on the importance of early intervention and an integrated preventative approach. It calls on EU countries to:
Romania and Bulgaria adopted strict measures and showed a significant decline in child poverty for the first five years of applying the directive.
First and foremost, it was important to acknowledge that the children are not poor by themselves; a child’s wellbeing is measurable by the wellbeing of the family in which they grow up. That meant that support to children is a direct outshoot from support to the family. The mix of financial aid, prevention services and early intervention in cases of child abuse are essential in developing anti-poverty strategies helped Bulgaria and Romania to reduce child poverty with 10 points in a period of five years.
To that end, the countries adopted child allowance policies, which ensure that children are not disadvantaged by the low wages of the parents. Countries also ensured that children have equal and affordable access to childcare that is not dependent on the employment status of the parent, which allowed to more than 90 percent of the children in Romania and Bulgaria to register for public kindergartens. Additionally, participation beyond school activities it is highly promoted at the country level as it is fundamental for a child’s development and confidence. For this reason, services such as high-quality after-school services, most often sports, youth clubs and community work, are supported and stimulated at local and European levels.
EU to Support National Child Poverty Policies
National anti-poverty policies also include routine social transfer programs; the direct provision of services and resources, such as subsidized or free childcare or food packages; national-level grants to social partners; and targeted intervention programs. There are four major EU funding tools that are also available to member states to support the fight with poverty and social exclusion locally. The Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD), the European Social Fund (ESF), the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) directly address child poverty as being among the most extreme forms of poverty with the highest impact in terms of social exclusion and dedicate funds to tackle the problem.
The latest proposal for a dedicated Child Guarantee program has also been discussed in the European Parliament and has a great potential to help reduce child poverty EU-wide. The new program offers to every child at risk of poverty access to free and high-quality healthcare and nutrition, education, childcare and housing, while making available European funds for the Member States to co-finance relevant projects.
With the results, we already see in the poorest countries in the EU and the new avenues opened to help support children in risk of poverty the predictions for the next five years seem brighter and even more hopeful.