“It takes a city to raise a child”

23 February 2021

Milan’s ‘Primi Passi’ (First Steps) programme works with vulnerable families with young children in the city’s deprived areas. The idea is to engage them through the education system: improving access to childcare and preschool services, and offering peer-to-peer support. The goal of tailoring social services in this way is to reduce child poverty by reducing inequalities from a young age.

Leeds’ ‘Thriving’ child poverty strategy focusses on an integrated approach of working in local partnerships with all actors and services working with children and families (including schools, third sector, private sector, community representatives etc.), adding a participatory approach to involve children in policies that affect them.

In Madrid, where one third of households have experienced drop of income due to the pandemic crisis, rising to 42% for families with children and 46% for single-parent households, the aim is to support and work with the whole family. For instance, the city has recently set up a family card for food aid with a budget of €21 million. The city will also create its first Family House to act as a one-stop-shop to bring together a Family Support Centre, a Child Care Centre and a Family Meeting Point in the same space.

“They say it takes a village to raise a child, we say it takes a whole city”, said Anna Scavuzzo, Vice Mayor of Milan, speaking last week at Eurocities’ event ‘Growing up and out of poverty: Lessons from cities for the EU Child Guarantee’. “We need local schemes to fight child poverty in all areas of our city to give equal opportunities to all children”, she added.

The event, hosted by Brando Benifei MEP, took place ahead of the upcoming announcement on the EU Child Guarantee, and in conjunction with Eurocities report on ‘Fighting child poverty in European cities’ that found:

  • Child poverty is higher in cities: sometimes double or triple the national average
  • Children in the most deprived neighbourhoods are at even greater risk of poverty and social exclusion
  • Child poverty is, in fact, family poverty: it’s not enough to focus on the child alone, but a focus on the situation of the whole family is needed to prevent the intergenerational cycle of poverty

The EU Child Guarantee, an initiative that the European Parliament has been calling for since 2015, is a key building block of the European Pillar of Social Rights action plan, and one that is particularly relevant to cities, which must undertake the lion’s share of actually implementing these plans.

“Cities cannot afford to be on the frontline alone,” explained Santina Bertulessi, member of cabinet of the European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit, rather “member states should put forward action plans to fight child poverty in cooperation with local authorities,” thus bringing policy, funding and governance into greater alignment.

Indeed, while there was much consensus on the urgency to actively address child poverty and get the EU child Guarantee agreed upon as fast as possible, a few stumbling blocks do remain. The recent decision on the European Social Fund Plus, for instance, foresees that all member states should allocate appropriate funding from ESF+ to address child poverty, but it only stipulates a target, of minimum 5%, for those 11 countries with child poverty rates higher than EU average.

A more positive development has been the action by the European Parliament to get one of the six pillars of Resilience and Recovery Fund – the money earmarked by the EU for recovery purposes – to prioritise children and youth and get social expenditure tracking in all member states to define what social expenditure can be used as investment. However, the ambition to set aside 7% of RRF to invest in children and youth could not be met as a specific target. Now the next step is to ensure that the soon-to-be launched EU Child Guarantee and the national recovery plans match up.

Nonetheless, a resilient and inclusive recovery must mean investing in children as a priority. Moreover, it should be understood as a societal goal: not just a matter for public policy, but also for the private and third sector. “Investing in children is better than investing in tech start-ups” declared Dragoș Pîslaru MEP.

“This is the time to leave no one behind.” said Gabriel Bastos, Portugal’s Secretary of State for Social Security while presenting the Portuguese Council Presidency’s aim to prioritise children high on the EU agenda. “This is the time to put the generation that leads our future at the forefront” he concluded.


Alex Godson Eurocities Writer