SEATTLE, Washington — According to the European Commission’s latest report, children who grew up in poverty are more likely to suffer from social exclusion and health-related problems in their adult life. They are less likely to develop to their full professional potential, create strong families, or be an active part of the community. This vicious circle creates even more children living in poverty and ghetto communities. 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. In 2013, the EU Commission found out that investing in children through a preventative approach is helping to reduce the rate of child poverty in the EU.
Tackling Child Poverty in the EU
In 2017, 26.4 percent of European children were at risk of poverty. Of these children, 62 percent in Romania were the most vulnerable. As of 2019, child poverty in the EU had declined to 21 percent. More significantly, it dropped to 32 percent in Romania. This drastic change in the rate of one of the poorest countries in the EU speaks to how improved social policies and support for children can help reduce poverty. Research showed that there are three major areas of concern that have to be addressed.
- parents need help finding work
- children need access to quality education, healthcare and housing
- children should also have access to recreational activities
To tackle these problems each member state had to address it on a local level following the guidance from the EU Commission’s 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. Romania adopted strict measures and showed a significant decline in child poverty for the first five years of applying the directive.
Addressing Child Poverty
First and foremost, it was important to acknowledge that children are not poor by themselves; a child’s wellbeing is measurable by the wellbeing of the family in which they grow up. That means that supporting children is a direct offshoot of supporting families. The mix of financial aid, prevention services and early intervention in cases of child abuse are essential in developing the anti-poverty strategies that helped Romania to reduce child poverty by 30 points in fewer than three years.
To that end, the countries adopted child allowance policies to ensure that children are not disadvantaged by the low wages of the parents. Countries also ensured that families have equal and affordable access to childcare that is not dependent on the employment status of the parent. This allowed 90,000 more children in Romania to register for public kindergartens. Additionally, participation beyond school activities is highly promoted at the country level as it is fundamental for a child’s development and confidence. For this reason, programs, such as high-quality after-school services, 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 three major EU funding tools that are also available to member states to support the fight against poverty and social exclusion. The Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD), the European Social Fund (ESF) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) directly address child poverty as being among the most extreme forms of poverty. It has the highest impact in terms of social exclusion, so these groups dedicate funds to tackle the problem.
The European Parliament has also discussed the latest proposal for a dedicated Child Guarantee program. It has great potential to reduce child poverty in the EU. The new program offers every child at risk of poverty access to free and high-quality healthcare and nutrition, education, childcare and housing. It also makes available European funds for the Member States to co-finance relevant projects.
With the results already seen in the poorest countries in the EU and the new avenues opened to help support children at risk of poverty, the predictions for the next five years seem brighter and even more hopeful. Thanks to the united efforts of national governments and EU institutions, Romanian children live in better conditions and the future holds better perspectives for them.
– Olga Uzunova