Parliament Magazine: Europe can 'build a brighter future' by investing in children

EU must 'address' austerity policies' effects on children to avoid storing up 'huge costs for the future', says Jana Hainsworth.

Children are 20 per cent of the present but 100 per cent of the future. Europe has no chance of achieving its goals of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth if it fails to address how policies are impacting children, and what policies help all children to fulfil their potential.

Europe 2020 in its current form is not delivering for children. Across the European Union, every fourth child under 18 lives in, or is at risk of, poverty and social exclusion. In just one year, their number has increased by more than half a million. Under the guise of austerity, many member states are cutting services for the most vulnerable children and families.

Aside from the personal tragedies, this stores up huge costs for the future. Non-communicable disease, school failure, youth offending, low civic engagement can, more often than not, be traced back to adverse childhood experiences. At a time of an ageing population and a globalised economy, Europe can ill afford to waste its valuable human resources.

But what can Europe do about it? The EU has already sent a clear message to member states that investing in children must be a priority even in times of austerity. The recommendation 'investing in children - breaking the cycle of disadvantage' was adopted by the European commission as part of its social investment package in February 2013. It takes a child rights approach, emphasising the best interests of the child, equal opportunities and support for the most disadvantaged.

It promotes integrated strategies based on three pillars: access to resources, access to quality services, and child participation. It recommends member states use structural funds to catalyse reforms that implement the recommendation. It suggests that Europe 2020 and its governance tools be used to support child-centred investment.

But Europe has many faces. Country specific recommendations (CSRs) are predominantly associated with economic and employment measures. In fact, seven countries received CSRs calling explicitly for increased efforts to reduce child poverty.

More received CSRs on inclusive education and increasing early childhood education and care service provision. But overall children receive too little attention, and there is a risk that economic and employment measures undermine efforts towards poverty reduction and social inclusion.

Eurochild is working with a broader alliance of 24 networks to put children at the heart of Europe 2020. We believe we need more systematic monitoring of children's situation and how they are affected by policies. Comparing and contrasting between member states can help to support reforms.

Furthermore we need more transparent and direct involvement of stakeholders including children and young people. A specific sub-target on reducing child poverty would help raise visibility and gather political will to push forward reforms and increase investment.

There is no better way to build a brighter future than to invest in our children.

Find this op-ed in the Parliament Magazine here.