Warsaw is Integrating Ukrainian Children into Daycare

Since 2022, Ukrainian children have been enrolling in Warsaw’s daycare centres. The Local Support System for Children, established in 2013, integrates enhanced children’s access to social services and activities through daycare centres, where after-school activities are provided. 

The centres, catering to children aged 6 to 18 years old, are located in all districts and received significant support from UNICEF during the influx of Ukrainian children. “Thanks to the help that we received from UNICEF, we could offer more activities for those children and make it more interesting and diverse,” explains Grażyna Cieślak, Senior Specialist at the City of Warsaw. “It’s a good example of how we can transform short-term initiatives,” she concludes. 

Although Warsaw previously had residents with migrant backgrounds, Cieślak notes that “they usually do not use our services,” making this the first time the city had so many children in need. Currently, Ukrainians make up 20% of the children in daycare centres. 

The arrival and integration of diverse cultures in these centres have been a significant learning experience. “This is a big lesson because in the future it might be easier to accept more children with different cultural backgrounds in our centres as Warsaw becomes an increasingly diverse city,” Cieślak explains. 

Protecting childhood

The daycare centres are a key component of the Strategy of solving social problems 2030 that focuses on three primary areas: supporting families with children, enhancing children’s capabilities, and addressing inequalities and social welfare. The Welfare and Social Projects Department spearheads the implementation of family and child support policies, coordinating with various city units like family support centres, social policy units at district offices, welfare centres, and NGOs. 

NGOs play an integral role in service provision, engaged through sectoral social dialogue committees. These committees focus on priority issues, including child, youth, and family support, local support systems, daycare centres, specialised counselling, substance abuse prevention, and domestic violence. Local Support System Consortia and working groups provide targeted interventions for families affected by violence or addiction. 

The city develops three-year program editions, evaluated at the end of each cycle to guide future initiatives. “We plan to evaluate how our daycare centres implement the standards of work that we have developed some years ago,” explains Joanna Patoka, Manager of the Addiction Prevention Unit at the City of Warsaw. 

All stakeholders implementing these public services must comply with quality standards so the municipality can evaluate their work. “They do not have to fulfill them 100% because, for NGOs, it might be difficult, especially in situations like Covid or the war in Ukraine. But we have a benchmark, and we can see what works well, what needs to change, and what lessons we have learned,” says Patoka. 

She adds, “It’s necessary to understand that we are working in a process that takes a long time, but sometimes we see that something has to be changed in the process and we take out a piece of that process. This way we implement changes that can be fitted into a process. This way of thinking makes it easier to see how short-term projects become long-term solutions.” 

For instance, the city can closely examine how Ukrainian children have been cared for in the daycare centres. Research, statistical data analysis, and collaboration with experts and NGOs form the basis for policy development. As the Family Support Program concludes in 2024, preparations are underway for a new document to guide initiatives from 2025-2027, with continuous stakeholder dialogue ensuring the efficacy of ongoing activities. 

“For example, the next programme will integrate the multicultural aspect. We want to put it in the new standards and we also will prepare a programme that’s a policy paper for Warsaw. It’s a three-year Family support programme,” Cieślak explains. After the evaluation, Warsaw will integrate these aspects into the standards of the daycare centres to ensure sufficient services are provided, not only for children but also for newcomers from other countries living in Warsaw. “This way, we hope to enhance the quality of work in the daycare centres for all children.” 

Aligning social services with national policies has proven effective, particularly in integrating Ukrainian child refugees. Therefore, municipalities need national and European support and investment in resources, capacity building, and staff training. 

“Local governance for children is key for everyone to enjoy human rights. We have seen in the last years, with Ukraine, how much cities have worked to integrate refugees and to ensure access to basic services for all,” shares Nicola Sannazzaro, Child Protection Specialist at UNICEF. 

Additionally, cross-departmental coordination remains a challenge, highlighting the need for integrated processes across the education, healthcare, and welfare sectors.  

How to transform emergency responses into long-term solutions

To equip city officials with the tools, knowledge, and skills necessary to navigate the complexities of children-sensitive social innovation – ensuring that emergency measures are not only effective in the short-term, but also viable, scalable, and impactful in the long run – UNICEF and Eurocities organised a training session on 27-29 May, hosted by the city of Cluj-Napoca. 

We know that this continued tension, which is affecting children in particular, is placing a burden on municipalities across Europe,” says André Sobczak, Eurocities Secretary General. “During the early stages of these emergencies, cities have been thrown money at to respond to the challenges that come with them. But while the perceived emergency has faded, the actual needs of people remain.” 

He adds, “In this context, empowering cities is not only about ensuring resources, which certainly is key, but also about ensuring you have other capacities needed to transform emergency measures and embedding them into longer-term policy and strategies that address the actual needs of children in the long run. This is why this project – and this training – is spot on. 

The training ‘From project to policy: supporting local authorities in transforming short-term measures into longer-term solutions’ is funded by UNICEF and implemented by Eurocities, as part of the Eurocities Academy.  

It has supported nine cities in Poland, Romania, and Slovakia in evolving emergency measures into sustainable policies. Participating cities have received tailored mentorship to help them transform a short-term, child-sensitive project into a longer-term policy. They have also acquired concrete skills in project design and management, impact evaluation, and communications through the in-person training session in Cluj-Napoca.  

For example, how to localise the EU Child Guarantee. “What does it mean to localise the Child Guarantee? It means bringing national policies into local services,” says Thomas George, Global Urban Lead at UNICEF, as “we consider local government vital in addressing inequalities.” 

For instance, the training “showed us that our daycare centres need some fresh air that we could enhance the quality of their work thanks to some small changes. It was challenging but inspiring,” shares Cieślak. 

As George said, “How you design and invest in child-sensitive policies will determine the resilience and future of cities.” And “a city fit for children is a city fit for all.” 

Marta Buces Eurocities Writer