The Forum Network is a space for experts and thought leaders—from around the world and all parts of society— to discuss and develop solutions now and for the future. It aims to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields, and opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.
The European Family Support Network, of which Eurochild is a member, has put together a comprehensive holistic conceptualisation of Family Support which will advance our understanding and implementation of Family Support in Europe going forward. This multi-level multi-dimensional framework sets out a way forward to develop family support policy, provision and practice within a participatory approach for family welfare, children’s rights, gender equality and social justice.
At Eurochild, we understand that quality services reaching the most vulnerable children and families need to be sustained. We also understand the importance of effective integration services and policy frameworks to fully reflect the needs of all children and families.
That’s why we have been advocating to end child poverty across Europe for almost two decades. It is well-known that child poverty negatively affects children’s lifelong development, not to mention the harm it causes to economic development and the long-term resilience of our societies. And so, continuing to offer family and parenting support to fight child poverty and promote child well-being remains crucial.
Also on the Forum Network: When asked what makes life meaningful, many in advanced economies point to family by Christine Huang, Research Analyst, Pew Research Center
March 20 marks the International Day of Happiness, designated by the United Nations to highlight happiness as a critical component of sustainable development. The day also presents an opportunity to reflect on sources of happiness and satisfaction in life.
In particular, the early years of a child’s life are fundamental in determining their physical, mental, social, and emotional development. For this reason it is our top priority to act as early as possible to prevent inequalities that negatively influence children’s’ life-course opportunities, well-being and health, regardless of their background, and enable them to reach their full potential.
Governments have a critical role in supporting parents and families, but also in creating an ecosystem of policies and services empowering children and their families.
Young children are entirely reliant on adults for their care. Children’s development depends largely on how parents and caregivers interact with them and respond to their needs. But young children’s well-being is far from being only a private matter. Governments have a critical role in supporting parents and families, but also in creating an ecosystem of policies and services empowering children and their families.
And yet, the reality in Europe today is that many millions of children are missing out on a fair start in life because their parents, families and caregivers are not getting the necessary support in line with their needs. The consequences are huge, not only for the children themselves but for society as a whole.
The good news is that the European Union (EU) has made promising commitments to upholding children’s rights and reducing disadvantage.
By adopting the European Child Guarantee 2 years ago, the EU has demonstrated its political commitment to breaking the cycle of poverty and disadvantage across generations. The Child Guarantee asks Member States to have the best interest of the child as a primary consideration and to provide an enabling policy environment which comprehensively addresses child poverty and social exclusion. This requires an ecosystem of policies and support measures in relation to family support, health, learning outcomes etc., to ensure a fair start for every child in Europe.
To secure its success, the priority now is to turn this commitment into tangible measures to eradicate child poverty. EU and national leaders should live up to their political commitment by submitting ambitious and comprehensive national action plans. As living documents that will remain in force at least until 2030, these plans should be regularly reviewed and updated, ensuring a rights-based, integrated, multidimensional approach and a deep interconnection with the national, regional, and local scenarios they relate to.
It will be important to capitalise on the Child Guarantee to reach and support the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children. All children, including children living in extreme poverty, Roma and Traveller children, children in (or at risk of entering) alternative care, migrant and refugee children (including those who are undocumented) and children with disabilities should have nurturing care from the start, and access to quality essential services. Specific and targeted interventions are needed to reach the most marginalised young children and their families.
One of the many recommendations our members are making is about investment in reforming the child protection system and keeping children out of alternative care settings.
The Eurochild (In)visible children report on children in need across Europe also stresses the importance of early intervention, prevention and the prioritisation of family support as part of the solution for tackling child poverty, inequality and social exclusion. One of the many recommendations our members are making is about investment in reforming the child protection system and keeping children out of alternative care settings. Family centres should be expanded and focus on enhancing parents’ skills and on offering other support to keep families and children together.
With adequate support and community-based services, parents and caregivers can provide the best, most sustainable, and affordable support for their children, who can in turn thrive and develop in a familiar environment rather than being separated from their biological families and placed in alternative care. Lack of support to families and inclusive education including inclusive early childhood education and care in the local area are the main reasons that children with disabilities are placed in institutions.
Eurochild has also pioneered a model that aims to capture a systems-wide understanding of public investment in children and families. The conceptual framework developed through Childonomics encourages analysis across the whole landscape of policies, programmes and services that have an impact on children and families. It proposes a way to map services and programmes, not to create a rigid classification or typology, but rather to help understand how different investments are interconnected and can combine to contribute to different outcomes. Of note, this framework aligns well with the European Family Support framework which emphasises the importance of all three levels within a participatory ethos – policy, provisions and practice. Within the Childonomics framework family and parenting support is also recognised as including a variety of provisions including economic and employment support.
Correct implementation of the Childonomics methodology requires horizontal and vertical collaboration among policy departments, and across different levels of government. It provides a framework to bring policymakers together with other stakeholders, such as NGOs and academia, to work towards the shared goal of improving outcomes for children and families. The methodology also requires consultation with children and families. The measurement of outcomes can, however, be constrained by a lack of data – in particular longitudinal data – and the need to give due weight to qualitative outcomes.
To conclude there are some key challenges in the field of family support as I see them:
- insufficient data collection to monitor policy and evaluate implementation;
- tendency to blame families rather than tackling the root causes of poverty and social exclusion, addressing structural barriers and inequalities;
- insufficient attention to supporting egalitarian principles and intervening together with families through empowering them and building on their strengths.
This requires funding. It requires a long-term vision. But it saves money in the long-term. Dealing with problems resulting from family breakdown, abuse or neglect is much more costly.
It is essential governments at all levels recognise this challenge and ensure budget cuts do not compromise the well-being of families and children.
Learn more about OECD's work on Families and children
Families are the cornerstone of society. They play a central economic role, are a crucial engine of solidarity, and provide protection and insurance against hardship. Families offer identity, love, care and development to their members and form the core of many social networks.