The rights and protection of vulnerable children, including those from migrant groups, is a pressing issue across Europe and on March 20th the subject took centre stage at a meeting held in Sofia, Bulgaria. The European Social Network (ESN) along with representatives from social policy ministries across the EU used the event, organised by the Social Protection Committee (SPC), to discuss a variety of crucial issues affecting children. The SPC is an EU advisory policy committee for employment and social affairs to the Council of the EU.

The meeting, which was arranged in the context of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, focused on a range of areas affecting children. These included how to improve child protection policies and childcare. In addition, EU Member States representatives discussed about a proposal to conduct a benchmarking exercise on childcare and child protection policies, with an intention to assess the situation in all EU countries and produce minimum enforceable standards to protect children. Discussion also took place around the European Commission’s plan to launch a call to tender on a feasibility study of a child guarantee for vulnerable children.

ESN’s chief executive Alfonso Lara Montero leveraged the organisation’s expertise in child protection focusing his address on unaccompanied minors. He gave a presentation based on ESN’s latest detailed report on the social inclusion of young migrants and families. Reflecting on the report, which identified key issues affecting vulnerable children and offered recommendations on how to improve the situation, Mr Montero argued that social services in Europe have a duty to support unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and help migrant families integrate into society.

“Investing in the transition to adulthood of young migrants is a key social investment,” Mr Montero told those gathered. “It is logical that having invested in care for these young people over the years public authorities support them to stay in education or employment through an integrated plan that links with housing and social services.”

ESN report: “Promoting the social inclusion of migrant children and young people: The duty of social services” 

The report presented at the event is the result of information gathered at the October 2017 Stockholm ESN seminar and an online questionnaire sent to ESN members and external organisations.  It explored crucial issues faced by social services when supporting the integration of migrant children and young people in their host societies. After an initial overview of reception of migrant children in Europe it assessed what care and support was available for unaccompanied children. Specifically, it looked at access to key services such as accommodation, healthcare, psychosocial support and education. The coordination of these services through guardians was also reviewed. 

In addition, the publication identified barriers to the integration of children of refugee families but also where approaches showed promise, including best practice, for example, when it comes to support for young migrants turning 18.

Key messages

The first in a number of key messages presented at the meeting was that child reception issues first be addressed from a child protection perspective and then from a migration or asylum-seeking angle. The second takeaway was that unaccompanied children should be appointed with a guardian as soon as possible on arrival to help them with coordinating access to services. The third was that effective service coordination between departments is central to ensuring effective integration into European societies. The final point was that the transition to adulthood for unaccompanied children needs to be better managed with a comprehensive support plan in place for when they leave care.