From the disruption of their schooling to their social skills and mental health and well-being, the pandemic has had a strong impact on children and young people. Home-schooling has deepened the inequalities in education and training. Child poverty is increasing in cities and the poorest are the hardest hit. These are some of the conclusions from the recent WG Children meeting held online on 10 July 2020.
More than 40 representatives from 27 cities in 17 European countries met online for the kick-off meeting of the new EUROCITIES Working Group Children and Young People, which is chaired by Leeds. The city experts discussed the social impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on children and how cities are responding to mitigating them.
Key trends in cities responses to mitigate the COVID-19 impact on children
Participants discussed common challenges related to the COVID-19 crisis in cities and the impact on children, exchanged on the policy responses in their cities and shared lessons learnt so far, agreeing that:
- COVID-19 has had a huge impact on children’s emotional, social and mental health and well-being. It has hit hardest on children in poverty, coming from low-income families and digitally excluded.
- Cities have acted quickly to put in place policy measures to mitigate this impact on child poverty by:
- providing food aid to families in need: food vouchers in Leeds, food packages in Glasgow and Milan, pickup lunch services in Malmo and Oulu (the latter had replaced free lunches at school with free packed meals that parents can pick up and warm at home)
- offering digital devices and equipment (refurbished laptops and tablets) to low-income families to enable children to follow school lessons online (Leeds, Amsterdam, Ghent, Oulu etc.)
- offering pedagogical and play resources: some cities chose to distribute physical leisure packages (playboxes delivered at home in Leeds and Ghent) while others focused on online leisure resources (Trello board programme in Madrid, online programmes for sports or visits to museums in Amsterdam, Glasgow), or online portal with overview of all possible support for children and parents (Kortrijk)
- free-of-charge online counselling for children and young people (Leeds, Oulu, Milan)
- financial relief for families: freezing childcare/school fees during the lockdown/pandemic (AMS) and offering financial and debt counselling for families (at risk) in poverty (Oulu)
- Outreach to families is key to offer emotional support and monitor their needs, either physically through door-to-door distribution of food or playboxes or via helplines online or phone. In this way, cities have identified new families in need, not known to city services beforehand.
- Working in partnership with the volunteer sector (e.g. UNICEF, Save the Children) has been crucial to ensure the vast distribution of food and playboxes, among other means of support. Many cities have established more partnerships than before, with more opportunities for the future work.
- Some cities have launched longitudinal surveys of families (e.g. Madrid, Tampere) to closely monitor the (income) situation of families to know how to respond to their needs, laying the ground for evidence-based policy-making.
Upcoming EU initiatives related to children
Josefine Hederström, deputy head of unit at DG EMPL, European Commission, informed that the European Commission is preparing several policy initiatives to improve the situation of children in Europe and mitigate the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 crisis on children :
- EU Child Guarantee will focus on the children most in need to provide them equal and free access to services to ensure equal opportunities for all children
- EU strategy regarding the income situation of parents
- EU study on the participation of children in the political life
- EU strategy on children’s rights
The EU Child Guarantee is specifically relevant for cities due to the strong focus on access to services. The Commission proposed in its revised proposal on the ESF+ regulation, that member states should allocate at least 5% of the ESF+ resources under shared management to support activities addressing child poverty.
Valeria Setti from DG JUSTICE and Fundamental Rights at the European Commission presented briefly the roadmap for the EU strategy on children’s rights.
Vienna adopted in May 2020 its first ‘Children’s and Youth Strategy’ with the aim to make Vienna the most child and youth-friendly city. Among other things, it will anchor a children’s and youth budget of 1 million euros for 2021 as well as a children’s and youth parliament. The strategy builds on the experiences from the “Werkstadt Junge Wien”, the largest child and youth participation project in the history of Vienna. Over 22,500 children and young people have been consulted to share their ideas and suggestions for the future of the city. Read more
Priorities and new survey on child poverty
The key priorities of WG Children and Young People for 2020-2021 is to work together on:
- mitigating the effects of child poverty
- reducing the number of ‘looked after children’ in public care
- improving the social, emotional and mental health and well-being of children and young people
To kick-off the joint work on child poverty, Eurocities has launched a new survey for members to collect data, evidence, good practices and bottlenecks on city measures to mitigate child poverty. This is a unique opportunity to feed city inputs into the EU Child Guarantee proposal of the European Commission.