Looking back to look forward: Changing minds, policies, and lives of children in alternative care

An overview of the partnership between Eurochild and the Martin James Foundation between 2020 and 2022

More than 850,000 children are deprived of parental care in Europe. The reasons for separation from family can differ for each and every child, but we know that poverty, neglect, abuse, and violence often play a role. Given the current cost-of-living crisis impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the invasion of Ukraine, many families will struggle to make ends meet and there is a very real risk that this number will significantly increase. Furthermore, more than 300,000 children still live in residential care, where forms of placement vary between children’s homes, small group homes, and also larger institutional facilities, the latter of which have been proven to be harmful for children’s mental and physical development.

The partnership between Eurochild and the Martin James Foundation (MJF) (2020-2022) has contributed to child protection reforms across Europe by advocating for prioritising family-based care for children in the care system, sharing good practices, and empowering national civil society organisations working on family strengthening. In this article we share our successes and thanks to MJF for their support over the past three years to help Eurochild raise the bar on the lives of children in alternative care.

Technical assistance that drives national change

Core to this partnership, Eurochild has provided technical assistance and sub-grants to our members in Croatia, Greece, Poland, and Turkey to achieve tangible change in countries where reforms in the transition from institutional to community- and family-based care has lagged behind international recommendations. Members ran trainings with foster care professionals and prospective foster carers, amended the related legislation and engaged with the national authorities, raised awareness, and proposed good practices on foster care for all children. Together, we have contributed to important country-level changes.

EU influence to ensure children in alternative care are not forgotten

Through our advocacy with EU decision-makers and our capacity building of national civil society organisations to advocate at national level and European level, the Eurochild network has been maintaining momentum for EU funding and political pressure to strengthen child protection systems.

Eurochild is one of the leading voices of children’s rights civil society that influenced the adoption of the European Child Guarantee in 2021[1], and continues to influence its implementation across the 27 countries of the EU. We have consistently advocated for and achieved the inclusion of children in alternative, especially institutional care, as one of the key target groups of vulnerable children.

Equipping civil society to better fight for the rights of children in alternative care

As part of our partnership with MJF, Eurochild empowered our members to become stronger child rights advocates, to better understand and influence EU processes and to better utilise advocacy strategies to carry on their effort to ensure all children will have a family to thrive.

Our learning sessions brought together over 280 professionals, creating a learning space to build civil society capacities towards our shared deinstitutionalisation agenda. Eurochild’s Children in Alternative Care Working Group includes 60 members across 27 European countries. This includes practitioners, experts, academics, and representatives of public bodies. All webinars’ topics were co-created and identified with Eurochild members. Topics included education for children in alternative care (Belgium, England, France and Finland); family strengthening programmes (Bulgaria, Latvia); social housing for youth (Scotland, Croatia), alternative care in response to the war in Ukraine (Ukraine, Poland, Moldova) and foster care for children with disabilities (Greece, Spain).

In 2023, Eurochild hopes to continue to empower our members advocate for better child protection systems and, ultimately, to improve the lives of some of Europe’s most vulnerable children.

[1] The Child Guarantee will be funded under the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+ as part of EU Cohesion Policy), and will include funding of child protection reforms and other child-related services. Countries with a child poverty rate over 23.4% (the EU average) are required to earmark 5% of its total ESF+ allocation to combat child poverty. For example, for Croatia, this amounts to approximately €99 million; for Greece it is €29 million for the period 2023-2030.

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