On 3 October in Glasgow, Scotland, the ‘Partnerships Across Europe’ seminar organised by ESN, Social Work Scotland and the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland (CELCIS), brought together leaders in social services from Scotland and across Europe. It provided the opportunity for ESN to connect local providers of social services with EU policies, to present trends in children’s services occurring at European level and share best practice from different countries.

Presenting EU policies on children

During the seminar, ESN discussed the European Commission’s 2013 Recommendation ‘Investing in Children: breaking the cycle of disadvantage’. It is a major policy initiative, which aims to encourage investment in children and a preventative approach to help them reach their full potential and minimise their risk of social exclusion and poverty. It is implemented through policy recommendations included in the European Semester[WH1] , through EU funds, and the sharing of best practice.

ESN has assessed implementation of the Recommendation through a three-year project: ‘Investing in Children’s Services, Improving Outcomes’. The project culminated in a report, consisting of analysis of 14 countries, with policy recommendations put forward to improve implementation of the Recommendation’s principles.

Common challenges and innovative practices

In the seminar ESN’s policy director, Alfonso Lara Montero, shared the findings of this project, common challenges faced by children’s services in Europe, and innovative practices to overcome these challenges.

Early childhood education and care (ECEC) was one of the topics highlighted. Despite recognition of the positive impact on children’s lives in the long-run, ESN has identified that the demand for ECEC in Europe outstretches the supply of these services, with significant cuts made to the provision of ECEC during the financial crisis.

Alfonso also presented examples of innovative practices. One of these is the Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) framework in Scotland, which puts the rights and wellbeing of children at the heart of services. The framework has proven successful, with fewer children on the protection register and has led to time savings for social worker caseloads.

Another example presented is the Index for at-risk Children (VIR) in the Netherlands which has been instrumental in connecting professionals who work with the same child. It uses a digital flagging system where professionals are notified when a child they have registered on the index has been in contact with another professional, fostering a more coordinated approach.

Supporting implementation of the Recommendation

Jennifer Davidson, Director of CELCIS, remarked on the value of the seminar for sharing experiences which can aid reflection on challenges facing children’s services as well as helping to find solutions to these challenges. Activities like the seminar that engage local stakeholders by sharing policy recommendations and best practice in order to meet the principles of the European Commission’s Recommendation will be vital to support its implementation. This importance is underlined by the European Commission which stated in its own assessment that the Recommendation is neither well-known nor properly used at local level.