Cities’ role in realising the EU Child Guarantee

8 February 2024

The European Child Guarantee is a landmark initiative aimed at overcoming child poverty and social exclusion within the EU, by guaranteeing children’s access to key services, such as education and healthcare.

The goal of this instrument, adopted unanimously by the European Council in 2021, is that every child in the EU has the opportunity to thrive and develop to their full potential, irrespective of their socio-economic background.

A key aspect of the Child Guarantee is its recognition that local authorities play a crucial role in delivering services and support to vulnerable children. Local governments provide education, health, housing and social services to all children in need and are at the forefront of work to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.

Cities are instrumental in making the Child Guarantee a reality and in achieving the target to lift at least five million children out of poverty by 2030, as outlined in the action plan of the European Pillar of Social Rights. If the objectives of the EU Child Guarantee are to be realised, cities must play a central role in its further development, as well as the implementation of its policies and funding.

Photo courtesy of the city of Ghent

Localising the EU Child Guarantee

To recognise the crucial position of cities, Eurocities and the UN agency, UNICEF, have created a new partnership, which is focused on building the capacity of local authorities to implement the EU Child Guarantee.

This innovative partnership is working to ensure that the governments of cities and their municipalities are viewed as key partners of the EU and national governments.

It is also calling on all EU stakeholders, including the European institutions and national, regional and local levels of government, along with international organisations and NGOs, to come together to make the Child Guarantee a reality.

Photo courtesy of the city of Ghent

In recent weeks, the partnership has presented this position at the EU level, organising discussions between the EU and city representatives.

The partnership has also provided training for local government representatives to improve their understanding of the Child Guarantee initiatives and develop their capacity and knowledge to effectively carry out its implementation.

This training, which took place in Brussels under the title ‘Best Start In Life For All’, brought together experts from cities and UNICEF, as well as representatives from the European Commission. It guided staff from city governments on developing accessible and quality early childhood education and care services.

Overall, the partnership’s activities have helped to raise awareness of its goals among the European institutions, while also boosting cooperation and learning between the cities and municipalities involved.

Collaboration at all levels of government

The key role of cities in achieving the objectives of the Child Guarantee was underlined at a meeting organised by the Eurocities – UNICEF partnership in January this year, which brought together local leaders, MEPs, the European Commission and the Belgian Presidency of the EU.

Speaking at the event, Octavian Bivol, Deputy Regional Director for UNICEF Europe and Central Asia, explained that a lot of work has already been carried out to tackle social exclusion at all levels of government, but child poverty remains a concern.

“If the EU Child Guarantee is to prove effective, the EU and national governments must work hand in hand with local authorities to ensure the effective implementation of policies and programs,” said Bivol.

The importance of collaboration across all levels of European government was underlined by Romanian MEP Dragos Pislaru, Chair of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs in the European Parliament. He also stressed the need to share key data on child poverty between all stakeholders, so targeted actions can be developed that bring about real and lasting change.

The sooner we intensify our work, the brighter the prospects for our children will be.
— Romanian MEP Dragos Pislaru

“The sooner we intensify our work, the brighter the prospects for our children will be. This needs to be done in close cooperation between international organisations, national authorities and local and regional actors,” Pislaru stated.

André Sobczak, Secretary General of Eurocities, stressed that innovations and actions by local governments can also benefit national action plans to implement the Child Guarantee. “This will help to ensure that partners at all levels of government are working together to provide essential services that support vulnerable children, something we all need to fight for,” he stated.

Supporting the views expressed, Katarina Ivanković Knežević, Director for Social Rights and Inclusion in the European Commission, explained that local authorities play a “pivotal role” in ensuring access to key services for all children.

“In the European Commission, we really think that local governments are crucial for the implementation of the Child Guarantee and social policies in general,” said Knežević. “They play a key role in the delivery of childhood care and education, as well as providing affordable housing and healthcare.”

She added: “Local governments are closest to their citizens, so you can implement the actions needed to ensure children have a good start in life.”

Local governments are crucial for the implementation of the Child Guarantee.
— Katarina Ivanković Knežević, Director for Social Rights and Inclusion in the European Commission,

Leading by example: Brasov, Zagreb and Ghent

At the meeting, several cities presented case studies at various stages of implementing strategies to tackle child poverty and introducing the principles of the Child Guarantee.

The Belgian city of Ghent has a relatively small population of 270,000 people, but one out of five children are born into deprivation. The city is developing an action plan covering three areas: governance, policy and the integration of services.

“Our plan is focused on moving from a silo organisation where departments and services are either topic or target group related, towards one which allows us to have also integrated services,” said Lieve De Bosscher, Director of Child Care Services in Ghent.

The local government has created a family policy group, bringing together experts working directly with the children and their families, along with academic researchers, local politicians, NGOs, grassroots organisations and city services. The group collectively prioritises family policies and child policies and their impact on its communities.

In addition, the city has developed a range of access points to integrated services, called the grow team, which are directly accessible for children and their families, as well centrally as in the neighbourhoods.  The aim of the access points is that they are a central means for people to reach all available services.

“We’ve got a vision and its rollout is a work in progress” said De Bosscher. “I’m very proud that our 75 child care centres have become this single access point for the families in the neighbourhoods where we provide support.”

Services supporting children in Ghent. Photos courtesy of the city of Ghent

Since 2021, the local government in Brasov has been working closely with UNICEF to improve the support and services it provides to tackle child poverty and exclusion. Deputy Mayor, Flavia Boghiu, explained that Brasov has a population of almost 300,000 people, along with almost 44,000 children. “The first thing to make clear is that the issues being faced are different for each city,” said Boghiu. “In Brasov, the quality of life is good, but children in our city continue to face challenges.”

Photo courtesy of the city of Brasov
Having the connection with UNICEF has been key for us.
— Deputy Mayor of Brasov, Flavia Boghiu

Over the past two years, public funding for educational investment has doubled. Notably, 72% of schools are now fully accessible for children with disabilities, and the majority of schools provide dental services for their children.

“Having the connection with UNICEF has been key for us, as they have enabled us to work with all levels of government and to adapt our actions so they are in line with our national plan, which has proved really effective,” Boghiu said.

Photo courtesy of the city of Zagreb

Croatia’s capital city, Zagreb, has a population of around 750,000 people. The city has made tackling social equality and improving local services the centrepiece of its policy work. The local government has developed a strategy for combating poverty and social exclusion, focusing on the development of flexible policies that will provide diverse, affordable and high quality support services for children who need them.

“The service improvements we have made cover all the major aspects of the Child Guarantee, from health and leisure activities to the prevention of homelessness,” said Luka Juroš, from the Office of Education, Sports and Youth in Zagreb. “Our biggest focus has been on early childhood education and care, which is a big issue in our city at the moment.”

The city has also introduced free school meals for all children with support from a national scheme, with the meals provided increasing by 15,000 in one year, while educational scholarships have doubled, including scholarships for children with disabilities and children at risk of social exclusion. “We have had some challenges in incorporating our goals with the national plan, but overall many positive steps have been taken,” added Juroš.

Our biggest focus has been early childhood education and care, a big issue in our city.
— Luka Juroš, from the Office of Education, Sports and Youth in Zagreb
Photo courtesy of the city of Zagreb

The next phase

Looking ahead, the partnership between Eurocities and UNICEF will continue to develop in the months ahead. The Belgian Presidency is also planning to discuss the further development of the Child Guarantee with all levels of government in the EU.

“We have seen that cities are best placed to identify the needs and challenges facing children and to collect data about what needs to be improved,” said Andre Sobczak. “And they’re also very well placed to test new solutions on the ground, which is what we will be doing with the next phase of the excellent partnership we have developed with UNICEF.”

From its side, the Belgian Presidency has welcomed the aims of the partnership between Eurocities and UNICEF. The Presidency has encouraged ongoing collaboration between stakeholders to ensure the Child Guarantee is effectively implemented at national and local levels.

Speaking during the partnership’s meeting, Sofie Dumortier, Child Guarantee Coordinator in the Belgian Federal Public Planning Service for Social Integration, said: “The European Child Guarantee provides a very good framework to get everyone around the table to work towards one common goal.

We are now working towards the mid-term review of the Child Guarantee and we are thinking about how we can use this opportunity to introduce discussion between regions and cities across Europe.”

She added: “I think collaboration through this platform is very important for ensuring the voice of cities is heard.”


Andrew Kennedy Eurocities Writer