Social spending and return on investment - The case for investing in children
Childonomics Meeting of Advisory Group
On 20 June, the Advisory Group for the Childonomics project met in Brussels for its final meeting. Childonomics is a research project aimed at developing a tool to determine the long-term social and economic return of investing in children, by comparing the costs of different services and approaches to supporting children and families in vulnerable situations with expected outcomes for children, families, communities and the society.
During the meeting, the research team provided an update on the project, particularly focusing on presenting how Childonomics’ methodological approach was applied in practice in the two pilot countries, Malta and Romania. The final output of the project will include a conceptual framework, a working paper on the methodological approach, accompanied by a toolkit on data collection, and reports on the two pilot countries, Malta and Romania, including a results matrix for each country. The results of the project will be presented at the International Foster Care Organisations (IFCO) World Conference, which will take place in Malta in November 2017. Furthermore, another launch event will be organised in Brussels in early 2018.
The output of the Childonomics project aims to support civil society organisations and governments working in partnership in order to review public spending and outcomes for children; as well as to complement existing instruments, such as the upcoming Tracking Progress Tool on Alternative Care elaborated by the Better Care Network, monitoring States’ compliance with the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children.
Projects such as Childonomics can help investigate if and to what extent economic and financial resources are making a difference in the lives of children and their families. In order to explore current and upcoming challenges and opportunities for social investment, Childonomics’ Advisory Group meeting was followed by a high-level panel discussion on how the EU can be a catalyst in supporting reform at national level, better public spending and long-term prevention and intervention.
Panel discussion with Experts
The European Union is undergoing a period of transition: the economic crisis, the Brexit negotiations, and the debate around the “future of Europe” pose many challenges to be addressed in the coming months and years. However, recent initiatives, such as the European Pillar of Social Rights, and upcoming work around the next EU budget offer opportunities to foster social investment and investing in children in particular.
Despite good policy guidance, such as the 2013 Recommendation on ‘Investing in Children: breaking the cycle of disadvantage’, in recent years, the EU has seen an average of 20% decrease in social investment. To address this, we need to focus on lessons learnt from the past: on the one hand, resources allocated to social policies should be defined as “investments” and not as “expenditures”; on the other hand, EU financial instruments should be better designed to support social investment.
While the current programming period (2014-2020) of the EU funds introduced new tools to increase their effectiveness, such as the much welcomed ex-ante conditionalities and the Code of Conduct on Partnership, which institutionalised the role of social partners in designing and evaluating operational programmes; more is needed to ensure that, in the next programming period, the EU funds system is less complicated and more result oriented.
At the high-level meeting, experts agreed that, as highlighted in a recent call for action launched by the Opening Doors for Europe’s Children campaign, in order to achieve this, not only should ex-ante conditionalities be strengthened, but the meaningful involvement of civil society organisations and service users should be ensured during the programming, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of programmes. The active participation of civil society and communities of beneficiaries would also foster accountability.
Lastly, experts participating in the meeting highlighted the need to gather purposeful data to inform and shape policies and budgets: the latter should not only be based on reliable data, but should be driven by it. Old instruments such as the Rome Declaration and new initiatives such as the European Pillar of Social Rights offer an opportunity to show how the economic and social dimension of Europe can reinforce each other; however, there is a pressing need for the EU to move beyond the rhetoric and provide real, practical guidance to support social spending to EU Member States.