Publication date: 05 February 2015

Mapping child protection systems in the EU

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), at the request of the European Commission, conducted research on national child protection systems in the 28 European Union (EU) Member States. It seeks to understand how national child protection systems work and to identify common challenges and promising practices.

FRA collected data on the main components of child protection systems focusing on the following areas:

  1. National legislative and regulatory framework, including child protection policies
  2. National authorities responsible for child protection and service providers
  3. Human and financial resources, focusing on qualification and training of personnel
  4. Identification and reporting procedures for children in need of protection and procedures for placing children in alternative care
  5. Accountability and monitoring systems, focusing on the monitoring and development of common quality indicators

The maps and tables presented on the following web pages show the scope, structures, actors and functions of the EU Member States’ child protection systems and how they aim to meet the diverse needs of different groups of children. A summary of key findings for each area is provided under the maps and tables.

Consultation with Member States - Member State representatives in the European Commission’s informal expert group on the rights of the child were consulted on a draft mapping of child protection systems in the 28 EU Member States. Representatives of 21 Member States provided written feedback: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain and the United Kingdom)

Research and methodologyThe research focuses on how national child protection systems respond to the needs of children with multiple vulnerabilities and on how institutions cooperate and coordinate work when developing and implementing the national laws and policies. It identifies legislative and policy gaps, implementation challenges but also promising practices. 

FRA’s expert contractors in the EU Member States, Franet, conducted the research’s desk research. The network collected secondary sources, including legal information and policy documents, and carried out a five-year literature review. Franet contacted government officials, representatives of child protection institutions and services, civil society organisations, national human rights institutions and children’s ombudspersons offices, where available, to obtain information not publicly available or for clarifications.

Timeline - FRANET conducted the research from December 2013 to March 2014.

National legislative framework

National legislative and policy frameworks are a key component of any child protection system. The data presented here concern EU Member States’ frameworks.

An integrated child protection system requires a national legislative framework that creates a safe environment for children. It needs to ensure respect, protection and fulfilment of the rights of the child according to the principles and provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). In addition to developing overarching children’s rights statutes, it is essential that all relevant sector-specific laws, such as those on education, health and justice, reflect the UN principles and standards.

Several Member States, such as Estonia, Ireland, Malta, the Netherlands and Slovakia are revising, or have recently revised or restructured, their child protection systems, including the legislative frameworks. In Malta, for instance, this led to the 2014 adoption of a Child Protection Act.

More information on national legal instruments can be found below


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Key findings

  • Not all EU Member States have developed a consolidated act devoted to child protection issues.
  • National legislation targeting particular groups of children and/or particular child protection issues, as well as sector-specific laws, are not always aligned with overarching national child protection legislation.
  • In federal Member States and in states with autonomous communities regional laws are not always harmonised, leading to disparities in availability of and/or access to services within a Member State.
  • The fragmentation of and limitations to national legal frameworks keep certain groups of children who face particular challenges from accessing some rights and receiving adequate and quality services:
    1. children with disabilities;
    2. children belonging to ethnic minorities;
    3. children in juvenile justice systems;
    4. irregular migrants;
    5. unaccompanied and separated children.

Eighteen EU Member States have a key legal instrument devoted to child protection, which addresses identification, referral and assessment of child victims of violence, abuse and neglect. These instruments contain provisions on the treatment of children deprived of parental care that fall under the protection of the state.

The United Kingdom does not have a common legal instrument. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have each developed their own related legislation. In Spain, the autonomous regions have each elaborated their own laws. In Belgium, the federal states have done the same.

German and Austrian federal law addresses child protection responsibilities, setting forth the general framework and the key principles for drafting state and regional laws.

 

List of national legal instruments on child protection, by EU Member State
EU Member State National legislation on child protection
framework on
child protection
and/or child rights
Respective legal instrument
AT Yes Child and Youth Aid Act (Kinder- und Jugendhilfegesetze)
BE No  
BG Yes Child Protection Act (Закон за закрила на детето) (CPA)
CY No Children Law (Ο περί παιδίων νόμος)
CZ Yes Act on Social and Legal Protection of Children (Act No. 359/1999 Coll.). An amendment of this act (Act No. 401/2012 Coll.) took effect on 1 January 2013
DE Yes Federal Child Protection Act (Bundeskinderschutzgesetz – BKiSchG) and SGB VIII
DK No  
EE Yes Children Protection Act of the Republic of Estonia (Eesti Vabariigi lastekaitse seadus) (1992)
EL No  
ES No  
FI Yes Child Welfare Act (Lastensuojelulaki / Barnskyddslag, 417/2007
FR Yes Law No. 2007-293 of 5 March 2007 reforming child protection (Loi No. 2007-293 du 5 Mars 2007 réformant la protection de l’enfance)
HR No  
HU Yes Act No. XXXI of 1997 on the protection of children and the administration of guardianship affairs (1997.évi XXXI. törvény a gyermekek védelméről és a gyámügyi igazgatásról)
IE Yes The Child Care Act 1991 and the Child Care (Amendment) Act 2013
IT No  
LT Yes Law on the Fundamentals of the Protection of the Rights of the Child (Lietuvos Respublikos vaiko teisių apsaugos pagrindu įstatymas)
LU No  
LV Yes Protection of the Rights of the Child Law (Bērnu tiesību aizsardzības likums)
MT Yes Bill 45 of 2014 entitled Child Protection Act (Out of Home Care) 2014
NL Yes Youth Care Act (Wet op de Jeugdzorg)
PL No  
PT No Law 147/99 of 1 September 1999 for Protecting Children and Young People at Risk (Lei n.º 147/99, Lei de Protecção de Crianças e Jovens em Perigo), amended by Law 31/2003
RO Yes Law No. 272/2004 (Legea 272/2004 privind protecţia şi promovarea drepturilor copilului), republished in 2014
SE Yes Care of Young Persons Act 1990:52 (Lagen med särskilda bestämmelser om vård av unga, LVU)
SI No  
SK Yes Law No. 305/2005 on Socio-Legal Protection of Children and Social Guardianship (Zákon č. 305/2005 Z. z. o sociálnoprávnej ochrane a sociálnej kuratele)

 

UK No  

Source: FRA, 2014

National policy framework

A comprehensive national strategy or national action plan for children that builds on the framework of the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child is another key component of an integrated child protection system.

A comprehensive national policy covers sector-specific national action plans and policies setting out specific goals, targeted implementation measures and allocation of financial and human resources. 


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Key findings

  • Many Member States have not yet developed a comprehensive national policy on child rights and on child protection in particular.
  • In some Member States that lack a national strategy or policy, local or regional policies have been developed; in others, local and national policies are drawn up in parallel with national strategies and policies.
  • National coordination and harmonisation of policies remains a challenge in most Member States. National strategies are not always linked to sector-specific, local and regional strategies or budgets.
  • Where national polices exist they are not always accompanied by concrete action plans with specific time-bound and measurable goals that could facilitate effective implementation and monitoring.
  • In most Member States there are multiple policy and legislative documents addressing particular issues – domestic violence or sexual exploitation – or particular groups of children – unaccompanied children or child victims of trafficking. Policy and legislation are not, however, always interlinked and coordinated to address the needs of children facing multiple vulnerabilities.

Only 13 Member States have a specific national policy or strategy on child protection. Four Member States (Croatia, France, Italy and Romania) have a draft national policy in the adoption process. In some Member States without a national policy, such as Greece, the government has announced that it is prioritising the development of a comprehensive child protection policy.

Some Member States have action plans at local/regional level. Denmark, for example, lacks a national policy; municipal authorities with child protection responsibilities are charged with developing policies locally.

In some Member States with decentralised systems, such as Finland or the Netherlands, local, regional and national policies co-exist.

In some federal Member States, like Germany and Belgium, policies are developed at country-community level. In Austria’s federal government developed a national policy targeting children rights.

 

National policy framework on child protection, by EU Member State
EU Member State National policy framework on
child protection
and/or child rights
Respective national policy framework
AT Yes National Action Plan 'Austria Fit for Children' (Ein kindgerechtes Österreich), adopted in 2004
BE No  
BG Yes National Strategy for the Child 2008–2018 (Национална стратегия за детето 2008–2018)
CY No  
CZ Yes National Strategy for the Protection of Children 'The Right to Childhood' (Národní strategie ochrany práv dětí 'Právo na dětství')
DE No  
DK No  
EE Yes Development plan for children and families 2012–2020 (Laste ja perede arengukava aastateks 2012–2020), adopted in 2011 and coordinated by the Ministry of Social Affairs
EL No  
ES Yes National Strategic Plan for Childhood and Adolescence 2013–2016 (II Plan Estratégico Nacional de Infancia y Adolescencia 2013–2016 (II PENIA))
FI Yes

Child and Youth Policy Programme (Lapsi- ja nuorisopolitiikan kehittämisohjelma 2012-2015 / Barn- och ungdomspolitiska utvecklingsprogrammet 2012–2015)

National Development Plan for Social Welfare and Health Care (Sosiaali- ja terveydenhuollon kansallinen kehittämisohjelma / Det nationella utvecklingsprogrammet för social- och hälsovårdenCare, Kaste 2012–2015); it covers families and children support services

FR Yes, but expired – new policy framework under development Governmental action plan will be launched by the end of 2014
HR Yes, but expired – new policy framework under development National Strategy for Children's Rights 2014–2020 was adopted on 25 September 2014
HU No  
IE Yes National Policy Framework for Children and Young People 2014–2020 'Better outcomes, brighter futures', adopted in April 2014
IT Yes, but expired – new policy framework under development New National Action Plan of Measures for the Protection of the Rights and Development of Subjects in developmental Age is under development by the National Observatory for Childhood and Adolescence
LT Yes

Child Welfare Programme 2013–2018 (Lietuvos Respublikos Socialinės apsaugos ir darbo ministro įsakymas ‘Dėl vaiko gerovės 2013–2018 metų programos patvirtinimo‘)

National Programme on Prevention of Violence Against Children and for Assistance to Children 2011–2015 (Lietuvos Respublikos Socialinės apsaugos ir darbo ministro įsakymas ‘Dėl nacionalinės smurto prieš vaikus prevencijos ir pagalbos vaikams 2011–2015 metų programos patvirtinimo’)

LU No  
LV Yes Guidelines 'Latvia suitable for children' (Bērniem piemērota Latvija)

Guidelines of the State Family Policy 2011–2017 (Ģimenes valsts politikas pamatnostādnes 2011.–2017.gadam)

MT No  
NL Yes National Strategy on Child Protection is part of the Action Plan 'Children Safe, Action Plan against Child Abuse 2012–2016' (Kinderen veilig, Actieplan aanpak kindermishandeling 2012-2016), launched on 28 November 2011
PL No  
PT No  
RO Yes, but expired – new policy framework under development New National Strategy in the field of Promoting and Protecting the Rights of the Child for 2014–2020 (Strategia nationala pentru protectia si promovarea drepturilor copilului pentru perioada 2014–2020) is currently under development
SE Yes National Strategy to strengthen the rights of the child (Strategi för att stärka barnets rättigheter)
SI Yes Programme for children and youth 2006–2016, updated (Program za otroke in mladino 2006–2016)
SK Yes

National Action Plan for Children for 2013–2017 (Národný akčný plán pre deti na roky 2013– 2017)

National Strategy to Protect Children against Violence (Národná stratégia na ochranu detí pred násilím)

UK No  

Source: FRA, 2014

Decentralised child protection responsibilities

National, regional and local authorities share child protection responsibilities. Non-state, private and community actors also play important roles. Data in this section cover national, regional and local authorities with child protection responsibilities, the coordinating authority at national level and service providers.

National governments have the responsibility, deriving from international, European and national law, to promote, ensure and protect child rights within its jurisdiction, regardless of state structure.


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Key findings

  • The majority of Member States do not have a single authority with overall child protection responsibility. Child protection responsibilities are instead shared among different ministries and across national, regional and local authorities.
  • In most Member States, child protection responsibilities at national level are assigned and/or shared among the Ministries of Welfare / Social affairs, of Justice and of Education.
  • Federal or autonomous states place responsibility at regional level.
  • Almost all Member States decentralise national child protection systems, assigning some responsibilities to regional or local authorities; the level of decentralisation, however, varies.
  • In some Member States, national authorities maintain the right and responsibility to coordinate and set standards at national level, while in others local or regional authorities carry full responsibility and enjoy a high level of autonomy.

With the exception of Cyprus, Ireland, Luxembourg and Malta child protection responsibilities are decentralised at varying levels. Sweden, for example, decentralises the operation of its child protection system but uses national law to supervise and regulate it.

Some Member States assign responsibilities to regional-provincial authorities (Austria, Croatia and France), others to local-municipal authorities (Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom).

In Belgium, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom, child protection responsibility lies with its federal states, autonomous communities or other delineated regions. At this regional level, however, municipal authorities bear primary responsibility for child protection. 

In nine Member States (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, GreeceHungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania and Slovakia) regional and local authorities share responsibilities.

Following a reform in the Netherlands, as of 1 January 2015, responsibility lies solely with local authorities. 

Central authority with national coordinating role

To ensure effective integrated child protection systems, particular attention must be paid to cross-sectoral coordination between all relevant government actors and between state and non-state actors.

A national unit assigned to coordinate responsibilities promotes and ensures coordination among central government departments, different provinces and regions, central and other levels of government, government, civil society and the private sector providers. It also contributes to effective implementation of laws and policies. In decentralised systems the need for cooperation and coordination is even more vital.

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Key findings

  • In principle, the ministry assigned the main responsibility for child protection holds a national coordinating and monitoring role; subordinate administrative structures, such as national authorities or departments, assume the daily task load.
  • In many EU Member States coordination is challenging because of overlapping roles and responsibilities, and the failure to delineate these roles and responsibilities clearly.

In 10 Member States (Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Slovenia and Spain) coordination responsibilities, including monitoring, lie with the ministry that primarily holds responsibility for child protection. Within the ministry, a specific department-secretariat is typically developed for this purpose.

Thirteen Member States (Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden) established a distinct authority to coordinate and often monitor implementation of national policy and legislation. 

In the United Kingdom, coordination at national level is lacking. Specialised departments within the lead ministry in each individual region are established, assigned with coordination duties.

 

Authorities having coordination responsibility at national level, by EU Member State
EU Member State Authorities at national level
AT Federal Ministry of Families and Youth (Bundesministerium für Familien und Jugend)
BE The Belgian National Commission on the Rights of the Child (De Nationale Commissie voor de Rechten van het Kind/La Commission Nationale pour les Droits de l’Enfant/Die Nationale Kommission für die Rechte des Kindes) – Federal level
BG The State Agency for Child Protection (SACP) (Държавна агенция за закрила на детето) (a National Council on Child Protection was set up inside SACP)
CY The Social Welfare Services of the Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance (Υπηρεσίες Κοινωνικής Ευημερίας)
CZ The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs – Department of Family and Protection of Children’s Rights (Ministerstvo práce a sociálních věcí – Odbor rodiny a ochrany práv dětí)
DE Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend)
Federal Panel of Experts (Bundesjugendkuratorium)
Federal Working Group of the State Child and Youth Office (Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft Landesjugendämter)
Working Group of the Highest State Authorities on Youth and Family (Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Obersten Landesjugend- und Familienbehörden)
DK The National Board of Social Services (Socialstyrelsen)
The National Social Appeals Board (Ankestyrelsen)
EE Department of Children and Families (Laste ja perede osakond) in the Ministry of Social Affairs
Health Policy Department (Tervishoiu osakond) in the Ministry of Social Affairs
EL General Secretariat of Welfare (Γενική Γραμματεία Πρόνοιας) in the Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Welfare
National Centre for Social Solidarity (ΕΘΝΙΚΟ ΚΕΝΤΡΟ ΚΟΙΝΩΝΙΚΗΣ ΑΛΛΗΛΕΓΓΥΗΣ), subordinated to the Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Welfare
ES General Directorate of Family and Childhood (Dirección General de Servicios para la Familia y la Infancia) (under the Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality)
FI Department for Social and Health Services (Sosiaali- ja terveyspalveluosasto), subordinated to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
FR Ministry of Social Affairs, Health and Women’s Rights (Ministère des Affaires Sociales, de la Santé et des Droits des Femmes) – Secretary of State for the Family, the Elderly and Autonomy (Secrétaire d'état chargée de la famille, des personnes âgées et de l'autonomie)
HR Ministry of Social Policy and Youth (Ministarstvo socijalne politike i mladih)
Council for Children (Vijeća za djecu)
HU State Secretariat for Family and Youth Affairs (Család- és ifjúságügyért felelős államtitkár)
State Secretariat for Social Affairs and Inclusion (Szociális ügyekért és társadalmi felzárkózásért felelős államtitkár)
Directorate of Social Affairs and Child Protection Principal Directorate (Szociális és Gyermekvédelmi Főigazgatóságról) – all subordinated to the Ministry of Human Resources
IE Department of Children and Youth Affairs
IT Department of Equal Opportunities (Dipartimento per le Pari Oportunita) (under the Presidency of the Council of Ministers) and Department for Family Policies (Dipartimento per le Politiche della Famiglia) (under the Presidency of the Council of Ministers) – under the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy
LT State Child Rights Protection and Adoption Service (Valstybės vaiko teisių apsaugos ir įvaikinimo tarnyba) – subordinated to the Ministry of Social Security and Labour
LU Ministry of National Education, Childhood and Youth (Ministère de l’Education nationale, de l’Enfance et de la Jeunesse)
LV Ministry of Welfare (Labklājības ministrija)
Commission for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (Bērnu tiesību aizsardzības komisija)
MT Foundation for Social Welfare Services – under the Ministry of Family and Social Solidarity
National Agency for Children, Families and the Community (Aġenzija Appoġġ) – part of the Foundation for Social Welfare Services.
NL The Child Care and Protection Board (Raad voor Kinderbescherming) under the Ministry of Justice and Security
PL Minister of Labour and Social Policy (Ministra Pracy i Polityki Społecznej)
PT Institute for Social Security (Instituto de Segurança Social, IP-ISS) under the Ministry of Solidarity, Labour and Social Security
National Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People at Risk (Comissão National de Protecção de Crianças e Jovens em Risco – CNPCJR)
RO The National Authority for the Protection of the Rights of the Child and Adoption (Autoritatea Naţională pentru Protecţia Drepturilor Copilului şi Adopţie, ANPDCA) subordinated to the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Protection and Elderly Persons
SE The National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen)
SI Directorate for family (Direktorat za družino)
Directorate for social affairs (Direktorat za socialne zadeve)
SK Central Office of Labour, Social Affairs and Family (Ústredie práce, sociálnych vecí a rodiny) under the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family
UK Coordination is organised at country level:
England and Wales: Government Department for Education
Northern Ireland: Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS)
Scotland: Scottish Government – Minister for Children and Young People
Wales: Minister for Health and Social Services – Deputy Minister for Social Services (under the Minister for Health and Social Services)

Source: FRA, 2014

Service providers

The government is obliged to develop appropriate child protection, social and family support services aiming to prevent all forms of violence against children and to protect, rehabilitate and socially reintegrate child victims.

Within decentralised systems, local authorities typically implement policy, acting as service provider. In any decentralisation process, the government retains clear responsibility and capacity for ensuring that obligations of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child are respected.


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Key findings

  • In the majority of Member States the national legal framework allows national, regional and local authorities to outsource child protection services to the private sector and/or to subcontract private actors including civil society organisations.
  • Both state and non-state actors, such as civil society organisations and private institutions, and associations both for-profit and for not-for-profit, offer child protection services.
  • Civil society organisations are playing an increasingly important role, becoming service providers of key child protection services such as alternative care, which traditionally only state actors offered.
  • In many Member States, for-profit institutions offer alternative care services such as residential and foster care.
  • The increasing involvement of the private sector creates challenges linked primarily to potential conflicts of interests: the child’s best interests versus the private sector’s profit interests. In this case, effective monitoring is a key challenge.

In at least 18 Member States (Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom) the national legal framework allows for subcontracting and/or outsourcing alternative care services to private-commercial institutions and companies.

In some Member States such as Finland, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom,  private–commercial institutions have an important role as service provider running a big share of alternative care settings. 

In other Members States, such as Bulgaria, Croatia and Lithuania, despite the existing legal provisions, in practise, up to now, alternative care services are subcontracted and/or outsourced only to non-profit institutions.

Financial resources and budget allocation

To ensure proper implementation and realisation of children’s rights, Member States need to allocate sufficient financial and human resources to child protection systems. Resource shortages hurt the overall performance of child protection systems, undermining their quality and sustainability. 

The data here focus on the budget allocated to child protection. 

In decentralised systems, both the national, regional and local budget finance child protection. In ensuring allocation of adequate resources, it is important to identify the proportion of national and other budgets allocated to children, both directly and indirectly.


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Key findings

  • Within decentralised systems, the budget allocated by national governments aims to supplement local budgets, given that local authorities bear primarily responsibility for developing child protection and family support services.
  • National budgets are often allocated based on a formula, which includes variables such as the number of inhabitants in a municipality and/or the number of cases involving children living there.
  • Expenditures related to child protection are often not visible in the state budget because they are distributed across the various areas involving children, such as education, social welfare, allowances and benefits, care, health, justice and nurseries.
  • Very often, the budget allocated to child protection is included in overall expenditure for social policy/social welfare. However, expenditures listed under social expenditures vary by Member State. Typically, they include child allowances or the budget allocated to the responsible child protection authority but do not cover expenditures that fall under the scope of other ministries.
  • There are no legal provisions that dictate the expenditures/budget that local authorities should devote to child protection; this is left to the discretion of the respective authorities.

In most Member States the budget allocated to child protection is not visible, and there is no specific budget line allocated to child protection expenditures.

Only eight Member States (Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden) allocate a specific budget item in their annual state budget to child protection.

In many Member States (for example in the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland and Spain), there are multiple budget items covering different expenditures connected to child protection, instead of a specific budget chapter or item encompassing all connected expenses.

More often, the budget allocated to child protection is included in the overall expenditure for social policy and social welfare, as for example in  Finland, France, Hungary, Lithuania, PolandRomania. However, the type of expenditure related to child protection that are listed under social expenditures vary among Member States. They typically include child allowances or the budget allocated to the responsible child protection authority, but in principle do not cover expenditures that fall under the scope of other ministries.

Certification and accreditation procedures for professionals

The presence of a sufficient number of qualified and well trained professionals is vital to ensuring the adequate protection and effective realisation of children rights.

In most EU Member States, the qualification requirements of professionals and personnel working in child protection services are inscribed in the legislative and regulatory framework and are part of the quality elements of the system.

In some Member States, accreditation and licencing procedures exist to ensure compliance with the existing requirements and to promote and ensure the availability of qualified personnel. Such procedures often include checking the compliance with educational qualifications and training requirements, as well as vetting procedures.


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Key findings

  • Accreditation and licencing procedures for professionals in child protection are not developed in all Member States.
  • Accreditation and licensing procedures, when available, are often limited to specific professional groups and do not concern all of those working with children (such as administrative personnel and staff involved in the daily care of children in institutions). Qualifications requirements are therefore general and do not contain precise requirements addressing the specifics of the child protection field.
  • Accreditation and licensing procedures do not always involve mandatory training (initial or ongoing) for professionals working with children, including administrative personnel and staff involved in the daily care of children in institutions.
  • Very often no review of the accreditation/licence is required. If in place, the stipulated time lapse between reviews varies from two to six years.
  • Accreditation and licensing procedures do not always include vetting procedures. Most often vetting is conducted upon appointment.

Certification and accreditation procedures vary within Member States. Some Member States (Belgium, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Malta, Romania, Spain and Swedenrequire proof of an accredited diploma in social work as well as vetting, but no specific training. As a rule, in these cases there are no provisions requiring review.

Only five Member States (France, Ireland, Lithuania, Poland and the United Kingdom) have a certification procedure for social workers that includes training requirements. Certified social workers have to complete a required number of training hours within a given timeline (varying from one to three years).

In other Member States (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Slovakia and Slovenia), no certification or accreditation procedures exist for social workers. There are, however, accreditation provisions requiring mandatory training for professionals working in specific positions, such as child protection officers, guardians, social assistants, family assistants and child carers.

In Hungary, for example, there is a compulsory six-year vocational training for social, child welfare and child protection personnel who provide personal care (e.g. employees who work directly with children/families). In the Czech Republic, child protection workers, social workers and teachers are obliged to participate in trainings for a specific number of hours per year, but the content of these trainings is not specified.

In Estonia, the new child act currently under discussion in the Parliament provides for certification and training requirements of all professionals.
 

Vetting of foster families and residential care personnel

Vetting refers to the procedures through which child protection authorities ensure that those seeking to work regularly with children have not been convicted of criminal acts that could endanger a child’s wellbeing and safety, such as acts of sexual exploitation or sexual abuse of children.

More information on EU Member States' provisions can be found below.


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More information on EU Member States' provisions can be found below.


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Key findings

  • Vetting procedures exist in most Member States. However, they often only apply to a limited group of professionals (e.g. social workers or teachers) and do not cover all of those in direct and regular contact with children (e.g. administrative staff and assistants).
  • In some Member States (e.g. Austria, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom) the police and/or judicial authorities provide specific certificates for persons working with children
  • Vetting provisions are often, but not always, part of accreditation and licensing procedures.
  • As a minimum, vetting procedures require checking criminal records for acts of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children. In a few countries additional requirements include mental health and psychological reports (e.g. in Hungary, Poland and Cyprus)
  • Very often the obligation for vetting professionals lies with the service providers, who must apply the existing provisions when recruiting staff. Nevertheless, state or regional and municipal authorities maintain responsibility for the implementation of existing provisions. Given the plurality of service providers, the systematic monitoring of the implementation of vetting procedures is challenging.
  • Following initial checks, the frequency of reviews varies significantly, and in some Member States there are no particular provisions on frequency of reviews and monitoring.

In all Member States there are requirements for the vetting of persons that are foster parents candidates. However, in at least four Member States (Austria, Estonia, Lithuania and Slovenia) there are no particular mandatory provisions for the frequency of reviews.

EU Member States' provisions requiring frequent vetting of foster families

All Member States have requirements for the vetting of persons that are foster parents candidates upon initial selection. Provisions setting a specific timeline for the frequency of reviews were, however, only identified in seven Member States (Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Romania and the United Kingdom).

When such provisions are in place, requirements vary significantly. In Belgium (French community) for example, reviews should take place every five years. In France and Romania, vetting is part of the licensing process of foster parents; these licenses must be renewed every five years in France and every three years in Romania. In the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, foster parents should be assessed on an annual basis and a new certificate of good conduct may be requested. In Ireland, general provisions require that the police (Garda Síochána) clearance certificates should be renewed every three to five years.

In some Member States (such as Hungary and Poland), the law establishes the frequency of reviews of the health status and the psychological suitability of foster parents, but there are no provisions requiring any checks of criminal records.

In other Member States, as in Greece for example, there are general provisions for initial requirements (including clean criminal records) to be applied throughout the placement period; there are, however, no specific provisions in place stipulating the frequency of and the procedure for reviews.

EU Member States' provisions requiring frequent vetting of residential care personnel

In eight EU Member States (Belgium (applicable to the French community), Bulgaria, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Romania and the United Kingdom), there are specific provisions for the frequency of reviews and checks following an initial vetting. In Romania and Latvia for example, the personnel in residential facilities should be subjected to an annual vetting; in Latvia, the personnel should also be assessed annually. In Bulgaria, the assessment, including vetting, of personnel in such facilities should take place every three years.

Provisions on legal obligation of professionals to report cases of abuse

In integrated child protection systems, the emphasis should be on primary prevention and the development of generic services for children and families. However, the identification, reporting and referral procedures of children in need of protection are also of paramount importance. Procedures and methods of assessment by competent authorities of the reporting of cases should reflect the principle of the best interests of the child and seek to take into consideration children’s views.

The data presented include information on professionals' obligations to report cases falling under the scope of child protection systems, and on the rights of children in alternative care to issue complaints against residential care facility and personnel.

Member States should develop identification, reporting and referral mechanisms for cases of children in need of protection. Existing mechanisms should be confidential, well publicised and accessible by professionals and civilians but also by children themselves and their representatives.

This map should be read together with the map on specific legal obligations for civilians to report cases.
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Key findings

  • In the majority of EU Member States, reporting obligations exist for professionals who are in contact with children. They do not, however, always apply to all professionals groups.
  • Only a few Member States have specific reporting obligations addressing civilians. 
  • In some Member States there is a comprehensive referral mechanism. However, in many the lack of clear reporting procedures and protocols creates further delays or leads to the under-reporting of cases.
  • The lack of a comprehensive document outlining the referral mechanism in place as well as the responsibilities of each of the actors involved has resulted in ineffective cooperation among professionals.
  • An important challenge identified in tackling under-reporting is the failure of professionals to recognise abuse and to understand and fulfil their professional responsibilities and obligations once concerns are noticed. There is thus a great need of training on the signs of abuse and the identification of child victims for all professionals who come into contact with children.

In 15 Member States (Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom) reporting obligations are in place for all professionals.

In 10 Member States (Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Greece, Finland, Italy, Latvia, Portugal and Slovakia) existing obligations only address certain professional groups such as social workers or teachers.

In Germany, Malta and the Netherlands, no reporting obligations were in place in March 2014. In Malta, however, the new draft Child Protection Act (Out of Home Care), introduces the obligation of mandatory reporting for all professionals and volunteers.

In many Member States, the anonymity of reporting professionals is not always guaranteed, as in Denmark, Greece and Lithuania, for example. This lack of anonymity may sometimes discourage professionals from reporting a case of a presumed victim.

Specific legal obligations for civilians to report cases of abuse

In integrated child protection systems, the emphasis should be on primary prevention and the development of generic services for children and families. The identification, reporting and referral procedures of children in need of protection are therefore also of importance for civilians.

This map should be read together with the map on provisions on professionals' legal obligation to report cases.


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Key findings

  • More than half of the EU Member States have specific reporting obligations addressing civilians.

In 15 EU Member States (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden), there are provisions setting forth specific obligations for civilians to report cases of child abuse, neglect and/or exploitation, falling under the scope of national child protection systems.

In many Member States without specific provisions, general provisions on the obligation for all citizens to report a criminal act under national law apply. In such cases, however, there is no particular obligation to report a child at risk or presumed cases of abuse.

Provisions on the right of the child placed in alternative care to issue complaints

Children placed in alternative care are vulnerable to abuse and neglect. All services and institutions or facilities responsible for the care and protection of children should inform children about their rights, including their right to issue complaints against the alternative care personnel. Alternative care providers should therefore develop accessible, confidential and child-friendly reporting procedures.


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Key findings

  • In many EU Member States, there are no particular provisions addressing the situation and the vulnerability of children in alternative care and their right to issue complaints, including against alternative care personnel.
  • Even when specific provisions exist, children are not adequately and systematically informed about their rights. There is often no particular authority or person responsible for informing children about their rights, including their right to report and how to do it.

In 11 EU Member States (Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania and the United Kingdom), there are specific provisions on the rights of children in alternative care to issue complaints.

When no particular provisions are in place, general provisions establishing the rights of children to report violations of their rights also apply to children in placement.  

Specific legal provisions requiring the establishment of complaint mechanisms within alternative care institutions

In addition to informing children about their rights, including their right to issue complaints against alternative care personnel, all services and institutions or facilities responsible for the care and protection of children should establish complaint mechanisms. Alternative care providers should therefore develop accessible, confidential and child-friendly reporting procedures.


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Key findings

  • In most EU Member States, there are no specific provisions requiring the establishment of individual complaint mechanisms within alternative care institutions. Such provisions only exist in nine Member States – Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
  • Even when such provisions are in place, the procedures are mostly not child-friendly and fail to ensure confidentiality for the child.
  • The most common reporting mechanism addressing children are national hotlines. Not all, however, address or are specifically developed for them.
  • Another reporting mechanism targeting children are websites. In many Member States, ombudspersons for children or national child protection authorities with monitoring duties have developed dedicated websites for children.

Provisions requiring multidisciplinary assessment of child protection cases

The process of reference and assessment of reported cases should involve a participatory, multi-disciplinary assessment of the short and long-term needs of the child. The views of the child as well of those of the care giver and family should be taken into consideration.


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Key findings

  • All EU Member States have provisions on individual needs assessment requiring the development of a care plan for children. Such provisions, however, do not always have statutory value.
  • Although the principle of best interests of the child is enshrined in law, most Member States lack criteria and practical guidance on how to assess it.
  • The principle of the right of the child to be heard is also enshrined in law. Very often however, particularly for children under 12 years of age, it lies within the discretion of the respective authorities.
  • Provisions on multidisciplinary assessment exist in the majority of Member States. Such provisions, however, often have no statutory value and the decision is left to the case manager or the leading social worker on the case.
  • Actual implementation also depends on whether provisions of concrete actions and structures exist, and whether they are described in the procedures and protocols (such as child conferences).
  • Requirements of multidisciplinary assessment are often applicable for second line assessment.
  • In many Member States, existing standards do not apply due to a lack of human resources and the heavy workload of professionals.

In six EU Member States (Finland, Greece, Latvia, the Netherlands, Slovakia and the United Kingdom), no provisions were identified on the multidisciplinary assessment of child protection cases. All other Member States do have specific provisions, but only in seven of them (Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Lithuania and Romania) do these provisions have statutory value.

In some Member States, however, as for example in the Netherlands, although there is no mandatory provision, a multidisciplinary team of professionals de facto carries out the assessment. Both the Advice and Report Centres for Child Abuse (Advies- en Meldpunten Kindermishandeling) and the Child Care and Protection Board (Raad voor Kinderbescherming), which are responsible for assessing cases of potential abuse and deciding on child protection measures, have multidisciplinary teams.

Other Member States have developed multidisciplinary teams in the form of panels or other advisory bodies within the system and assigned assessment responsibilities, with cooperation protocols subsequently put in place. In Belgium for example, a protocol of cooperation has been signed between the Youth Care Services and the Birth and Childhood Office (Office de la Naissance et de l’enfance (ONE)), to facilitate cooperation between youth care workers and ONE social-medical workers or doctors.

Provisions introducing age requirements on the right of the child to be heard in placement decisions

The map presents data on existing provisions on the right of the child to be heard in placement decisions. These include provisions applying in cases of voluntary placement, where there are administrative procedures, and forced placement (without the parents’ consent), and where competent judicial authorities usually take relevant decisions.

Different provisions exist regarding the right of the child to be heard in the judicial or administrative procedures on placement, and those on establishing the requirement to take into consideration the child’s views in the development of an individual care plan. The latter are very often optional, which is to say that they have no statutory power and are left to the discretion of the social workers/case workers.

This map should be read together with the map on provisions requiring multidisciplinary assessment of child protection cases.


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Key findings

  • In many Member States age limitations apply and specific requirements should be met.
  • In most of the cases where no age limits apply, it is provided that the child's age and maturity should be taken into consideration. In these cases, even when it is enshrined in law, the authorities may decide whether or not to listen to the child and take into account his/her views.
  • The weight to be granted to the child’s views differs in each case according to the child’s age and understanding.
  • When age limits apply, it is often the case that children aged 12 years or over have to be heard, while for those younger it remains at the discretion of the authorities.
  • In some Member States provisions exist establishing that the consent of a child is required in cases of placement.

In 11 Member States (Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Romania) there are provisions introducing age requirements, setting clear obligations for the respective authorities to listen to children above a certain age. In these Member States, the realisation of the rights of children younger than the age established by law largely depends on the respective authorities. This is also the case when no age requirements are in place, and it is up to the respective authorities to assess the maturity and the evolving capacities of the child.

The level of participation of the child also differs between Member States. In at least four Member States (Belgium, Denmark, Poland and Romania), existing provisions require that the consent or statement of non-opposition of children above a certain age (14 or 15 years old) should be obtained in placement decisions. Exceptions are foreseen only in grave situations.

Monitoring performance of national child protection system

An effective accountability mechanism should include data collection and analysis, indicator construction, monitoring and evaluation, and support for independent human rights institutions.

In most EU Member States monitoring responsibilities are assigned to different national, regional and local authorities.

National authorities responsible for monitoring the child protection system’s performance at national level
EU Member State Responsible bodies-authorities
AT Advocacies of Children and Juveniles Austria (Kinder - und Jugendanwaltschaften Österreichs)
Austrian National Youth Council (Österreichische Bundesjugendvertretung)
BE National Commission on the Rights of the Child (De Nationale Commissie voor de Rechten van het Kind/ La Commission Nationale pour les Droits de l’Enfant/ Der Nationalen Kommission für die Rechte des Kindes)
BG The State Agency for Child Protection (Държавна агенция за закрила на детето)
CY -
CZ Committee on the Rights of the Child (Výbor pro práva dítěte)
DE Federal Parliament’s Children’s Commission (Kinderkommission)
DK Social Supervisory Boards (Socialtilsynet) (since 2014)
EE National Audit Office (Riigikontroll)
EL General Secretariat of Welfare (Γενική Γραμματεία Πρόνοιας) within Ministry of Labour Social counsellors (Κοινωνικοί Σύμβουλοι)
Body of General Inspector of Public Administration, (Γενικός Επιθεωρητής Δημόσιας Διοίκησης)
ES Childhood Observatory (Observatorio de la Infancia - Subordinado al Ministerio de Sanidad)
Juvenile Prosecution Services (Fiscal de Sala Coordinador de Menores de la Fiscalía General del Estado)
FI National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health (Valvira)
Regional State Administrative Agencies (aluehallintovirasto/ regionförvaltningsverken)
National Audit Office (Valtiontalouden tarkastusvirasto/Statens revisionsverk)
FR General Inspection of Social Affairs (Inspection générale des affaires sociales)
General Inspection of Judicial Services (Inspection générale des services judiciaries)
Local Observatories on Child Protection (Observatoire Départemental de la Protection de l’Enfance (ODPE))
HR Council for Children (Vijeća za djecu)
Government Office for Human Rights and Rights of National Minorities (Ured za ljudska prava i prava nacionalnih manjina Vlade
HU Ministry of Human Resources, Directorate of Social Affairs and Child Protection (Szociális és Gyermekvédelmi Főigazgatóság)
IE Health Information Quality Authority (HIQA)
IT Parliamentary Commission for Childhood (Commissione parlamentare per l'infanzia e l'adolescenza)
National Observatory on Childhood and Adolescence (Osservatorio nazionale per l'infanzia e l'adolescenza)
LT National Audit Office (Lietuvos Respublikos valstybės kontrolė)
LU Committee on the Rights of the Child (Ombuds-Comité fir d’Rechter vum Kand)
LV Ministry of Welfare - State Inspectorate for Protection of Children's Rights (Valsts bērnu tiesību aizsardzības inspekcija)
MT Foundation for Social Welfare Services
NL Dutch Inspectorate for Youth Care (Inspectie Jeugdzorg)
Joint Inspectorate for Youth (Samenwerkend Toezicht Jeugd)
PL Council of Ministers (Rada Ministrów)
Parliamentary Commission for Social Policy and Family (Komisja Polityki Społecznej i Rodziny)
PT Institute for Social Security (Instituto de Segurança Social - ISS)
Public Prosecutor (Procuradoria Geral da República)
RO National Authority for the Protection of the Rights of the Child and Adoption (Autoritatea Naţională pentru Protecţia Drepturilor Copilului şi Adopţie, ANPDCA)
National Agency for Payments and Social Inspection (Agenţia Naţională pentru Plăţi şi Inspecţie Socială, ANPIS) through the local Agencies for Payments and Social Inspection (Agenţia Judeţeană pentru Plăţi şi Inspecţie Socială, AJPIS)
SE Health and Social Care Inspectorate (Inspektionen för vård och omsorg - IVO)
SI Social Inspection (Socialna inšpekcija) of the Labour Inspectorate of the Republic of Slovenia (Inšpektorat Republike Slovenije za delo)
Inspectorate for Education and Sport of the Republic of Slovenia (Inšpektorat Republike Slovenije za šolstvo in sport)
SK Department of Strategy and Social Protection of Children and Family - Section of Social and Family Policy (Odbor stratégie sociálnej ochrany detí a rodiny Sekcia sociálnej a rodinnej politiky)
Ministry of Labour Social Affairs and Family of the Slovak Republic (Ministerstvo práce, sociálnych vecí a rodiny Slovenskej republiky)
UK Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted)

Source: FRA, 2014

Key findings

  • At national level the responsibility of monitoring the child protection system as a whole is often assigned to an authority affiliated to the ministry holding primary child protection responsibilities or to a department or secretariat within that ministry.
  • In all Member States there are provisions regarding self-monitoring and the evaluation of services.
  • Not all Member States have developed an external and independent monitoring mechanism. Very few Member States have established an independent authority in this regard.
  • The ombudspersons offices for children and/or other national human rights institutions are granted monitoring responsibilities.

Independent monitoring by national human rights bodies

The role of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) and/or ombudspersons is vital in independently monitoring a state’s compliance with and progress towards the implementation of children’s rights and child protection laws and policies.

Independent human rights institutions complement effective government monitoring structures and accountability mechanisms.

Independent national human rights bodies monitoring child protection at national level
EU Member
State
Ombudspersons offices and NHRIs
AT Austrian Ombudsman Board (Volksanwaltschaft) - Austrian NHRI
Ombudsbody for children in alternative care (Kinder- und Jugendanwaltschaft Wien)(functions at regional level, Vienna)
BE Federal Ombudsman
Flemish Office of the Children's Rights Commissioner (Het Kinderrechtencommissariaat)
General delegate for the rights of the child - French community (Délégué Général aux droits de l’enfant)
Observatory for Childhood, Youth and Youth Care (Observatoire de l’Enfance, de la Jeunesse et de l’Aide à la Jeunesse) - French Community
Ombudsperson - German Community
BG Ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria (Омбудсман на Република България)
CY Commissioner for Children’s Rights (Επίτροπος προστασίας των δικαιωμάτων του παιδιού)
CZ Ombudsperson
DE German Institute for Human Rights (Deutsches Institut für Menschenrechte) - German NHRI
DK Parliamentary Ombudsman (Folketingets Ombudsmand) - Children’ Division
EE Chancellor of Justice (Õiguskantsler) - independent monitoring of child protection system in his duties as Children
Ombudsman (Laste ombudsman)
EL Greek Ombudsman (Συνήγορος του Πολίτη)
ES Spanish Ombudsperson (Defensor del Pueblo)
Ombudsperson (autonomous regions) - Defensor del Pueblo Andaluz (Catalan Ombudsman) O Valedor do Pobo (Galicia)
Childhood Observatory (Observatorio de la Infancia) - subordinated to the Ministry of Health
FI Ombudsman for Children (Lapsiasiavaltuutett) - acts with the assistance of the Child Advisory Board established by the government
Parliamentary Ombudsman (Riksdags justitieombudsman) and the Chancellor of Justice (oikeuskansleri/justitiekansler)
FR National Consultative Human Rights Commission (NCHRC) (Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme, CNCDH)
Public defender of rights (Défenseur des droits)
HR Ombudsperson for children (Pravobranitelj za djecu)
HU Office of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights (Ombudsman) (Alapvető Jogok Biztosának Hivatala)
IE Ombudsman for Children
IT Ombudsman for Childhood and Adolescence (Istituzione dell'Autorita' garante per l'infanzia e l'adolescenza)
LT Ombudsperson for Children’s Rights (Vaiko teisių apsaugos kontrolierius)
LU Ombuds-Committee for the Rights of the Child (Comité luxembourgeois des droits de l'enfant, appelé "Ombuds-Comité fir d'Rechter vum Kand" ORK)
LV Office of the Ombudsperson - Children’s Rights Section (Latvijas Republikas tiesībsargs)
MT Commissioner for Children (Kummissarju għat-Tfal )
NL Ombudsman for children ( de Kinderombudsman)
PL Ombudsman for Children’s Rights (o Rzeczniku Praw Dziecka)
PT Ombudsman (Provedor de Justiça) / Nucleus for the Child, the Elderly and the Disabled (Núcleo da Criança, do Idoso e da Pessoa com Deficiência)
RO Department within the National Ombudsman (Avocatul Poporului) specialised in rights of the child
SE Ombudsperson for Children (Barnombudsmannen)
SI Human Rights Ombudsman (Varuh človekovih pravic)
SK Office of Public Defender of Rights (Varuh človekovih pravic)
UK Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) - one for each of the four countries of the UK

Source: FRA, 2014

Key findings

  • Child ombudspersons may not have sufficient human and financial resources to allow them to systematically and effectively monitor the performance of national child protection systems.
  • Very often national human rights institutions and ombudspersons do not systematically monitor child protection systems and institutions, but instead react to filed motions and individual complaints.
  • In many EU Member States, ombudspersons and/or NHRIs are the only independent body responsible for monitoring children’s rights and child protection systems.

Standards on foster care

In all Member States, provisions regarding foster care, including standards, are established by law. Provisions on the number of children in one foster family aim to ensure the quality of care for children and facilitate the monitoring of foster parents.

Foster parents have to undergo training provided by the responsible authority and/or the service foster care agency, although in most states training requirements do not apply when the foster parents are relatives. The length and content of the training varies significantly both within and between states.

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Key findings

  • Not all EU Member States have provisions on the precise number of children that can be accommodated in one foster family.
  • In some Member States, where the maximum number of children per foster family is not established by law, legislation prescribes that the number is dependent on other criteria, and decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.
  • Only half of the Member States have provisions on the maximum number of children per foster family.
  • Where specific provisions exist, the maximum number of children varies significantly (from two to eight children per family).
  • In decentralised systems without provisions on the maximum number of children, there are often disparities within the country.

Only half of the EU Member States have legal provisions regulating the maximum number of children to be placed in one foster family.

When provisions exist, they are often related to the physical and mental health of the child, the number of biological children in the family and the number of siblings.

In Croatia, for example one foster family can accommodate three children, although exceptions are made in cases of siblings for instance. Only one child per foster family can have a severe disability.

A one person household can only accommodate two children, or one child with a disability. In Finland, the maximum number of children in one foster family is four, including children who already live in the household. Exceptions are foreseen in cases of siblings.

Even when provisions exist, responsible authorities may make exceptions. In France for example, the president of the Departmental Council (Conseil général) may allow foster parents to accommodate more children than are allowed by law (up to three children), if there are specific needs and if the hosting conditions are appropriate.

In some Member States such as Germany and Romania, where no such provisions exist, the number of children should be decided on a case-by-case basis, taking into account existing criteria and other requirements. Very often, general provisions exist linking the maximum number of children to aspects such as: the availability of space, the physical and mental ability of the child and his/her needs, the number of adult carers in a foster family and the number of biological children living in the house.

In practice, in many Member States without specific provisions it is up to the responsible authority or social professionals assessing the capacity of a foster family and/or being responsible for the individual child to decide.

Standards on residential care

Monitoring obligations are regulated by law in the vast majority of Member States. Developing standards is a pre-requirement for the effective monitoring of child protection services and institutions.

The compliance of residential facilities with existing standards is an important element of the monitoring process. Standards on residential care include provisions on management (data collection, self-monitoring), human resources (number of staff, qualification of staff), living conditions (premises and safety), number of children accommodated and practices and operational policies.

Standards on the operational framework of residential institutions
EU Member
State
Compulsory national
standards of
the operational
framework of
residential institutions
Compulsory standards
applicable at
state/region/province
level
No standards
identified
Standards developed
at national level
in the form of recommendations
with no statutory value
AT (✔)    
BE      
BG      
CY      
CZ      
DE    
DK      
EE      
EL      
ES    
FI      
FR ✔*    
HR      
HU      
IE      
IT (✔)    
LT      
LU      
LV      
MT      
NL      
PL      
PT      
RO      
SE ✔*    
SI      
SK      
UK      
Total 19 5 4 6

Source: FRA, 2014

(✔) Provisions exist at national level regulating some aspects of the operational framework of residential care facilities. Detailed standards are developed at regional level.

✔* Provisions exist at national level setting up general standards of the operational framework of residential care facilities. Detailed quality standards are developed by national monitoring authorities in the shape of recommendations and guidance with no statutory status.

Key findings

  • Standards are not always developed at national level, which may result in disparities within a country.
  • Existing standards very often take the shape of recommendations or guidance, and do not have statutory value.
  • Existing standards are often loose, setting forth vague requirements and criteria. Monitoring compliance is therefore challenging.
  • In certain EU Member States existing standards lack a holistic approach, covering primarily only certain elements, such as financial aspects, technical requirements and material conditions, and failing to cover other relevant ones, such as human resources.
  • When provisions regarding quality elements to be followed at the operational level exist, they are not always transposed into concrete measurable indicators.
  • Existing standards do not always apply to all type of institutions. In many Member States national standards do not apply to institutions for juvenile offenders, when such institutions exist, or to reception facilities for unaccompanied children.

In EU Member States with a federal or autonomous regional structure, such as Austria, Belgium, Germany and Spain, standards are elaborated at state-community-regional level. Some of these states, such as Austria, nevertheless, acknowledge the need for a unitary approach and also provide general provisions and guidance at national level, while others like Spain have developed non-binding national quality standards.

In some Member States, existing quality standards are applicable only in certain types of facilities and institutions, as for example in the Czech Republic and Italy.

In Greece and Slovakia, where no standards exist, responsible authorities are taking steps to develop them.

Child rights impact assessment

Child rights impact assessment is a tool predicting the impact of any proposed law, policy or budgetary allocation, which affects children and the enjoyment of their rights. Child impact assessment needs to be built into government at all levels and as early as possible in the development of policies and laws.


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Key findings

  • Specific requirements on a child rights impact assessment exist only in a few EU Member States.
  • In some Member States, child rights impact assessment is part of the existing human rights or social impact assessment.
  • When in place, child rights impact assessment is often limited to laws and policies targeting children and directly affecting them; it is, nonetheless, not carried out for laws, policies and administrative decisions that might affect them indirectly.
  • Child rights impact assessment is not systematically conducted by all national, regional and local authorities whose decisions directly or indirectly affect children.

Only six EU Member States (Austria, Belgium, Finland, Italy, Sweden and the United Kingdom) have specific provisions requiring that a child rights impact assessment takes place when developing laws and policies, and taking administrative decisions regarding children. Some Members States, such as Spain, are moving towards the introduction of such requirements.

The absence of any such requirements does not necessarily mean that no child rights impact assessment is ever conducted. In many Member States, the child rights impact assessment is part of the human rights or social impact assessment, as for example in Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Latvia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Romania. Some of them (Denmark and Estonia) specifically list child rights, while others (the Czech Republic and Poland) do not specifically reference child rights but list children with other vulnerable groups.

In some Member States, such as Ireland, the mandate of the ombudsperson for children includes the requirements of conducting a child rights impact assessment whenever a new law or policy is developed and drawing attention to possible impacts. However, whether this is done systematically and whether it takes place for all policies and laws that directly or indirectly affect children depends on the financial and human resources allocated to the ombudsperson’s offices.

Direct consultation with children

Child participation should be envisaged through direct contact with children and not only be mediated through non-governmental organisations and human rights institutions (thus, indirectly).

The right of children to be heard on “matters that affect them” implies that the views of particular groups of children on particular issues should be ascertained, as for example of children who have experienced the judicial system on proposals for legislative reform in that area, or of migrant children on migration law and policy. Children should participate meaningfully in the planning, implementation and evaluation of policies and programmes for child protection.

Direct consultation with children


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Key findings

  • Many EU Member States have introduced consultation with children and parents in the development, implementation and evaluation of child protection policies and laws. In most of these Member States, it is, nevertheless, not embedded in the decision-making process and does not take place in a systematic way.
  • In some Member States, children and families are mainly consulted through formal structures and representative bodies.
  • General provisions on the evaluation of social services and programmes may include consultation with service users and beneficiaries, and hence with children and families.
  • When no specific provisions on consultation with children exist, there is little evidence that it happens in practice.
  • In some Member States, the obligation of responsible authorities to consult with service users, children and families is enshrined in law.

The process of direct consultation with children and families when developing or assessing the impact of laws and policies was only identified in 10 EU Member States (Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom). In others (Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Latvia and Lithuania), consultation is carried out indirectly through formal structures and/or representatives such as children’s councils or parental associations.

In many EU Member States (Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Lithuania and Sweden), national child ombudsperson’s offices and child rights commissioners have established consultation practises to promote the participation of children in their daily work. Children are consulted on various issues related to their rights, including child protection. Consultation takes place either ad hoc, involving a specific group of children or, more often, through formal structures (such as children’s panels).

In some Member States such as France and Romania, there are general provisions concerning the consultation of children and families in their capacity as beneficiaries, which are part of the evaluation process of social services and programmes.

In Cyprus, although the consultation of children and families is not embedded in the development of laws and policies, children are consulted for the appointment of the Commissioner for the Protection of Children’s Rights. In some other Member States such as Germany, France and Estonia, some ad hoc practises were identified.

Child protection systems

Child protection has historically focused on particular issues or on specific groups of vulnerable children. Although this approach can serve the needs of a targeted group, it also has important limitations. Children may have multiple child protection problems. Fragmented child protection responses may deal with a single problem but fail to provide a comprehensive solution for the diverse needs of children. Focusing on selected issues alone, or on particular groups of children, is neither sustainable nor effective.

An integrated child protection system places the child at the system’s centre and endorses and promotes the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). It ensures that all essential actors and systems – education, health, welfare, justice, civil society, community and family – work in concert to prevent abuse, exploitation, neglect and other forms of violence against children and to protect and assist children in these situations.

The UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children recommends that “all States develop a multi-faceted and systematic framework in response to violence against children which is integrated into national planning processes.” Such an integrated, systemic approach to child protection benefits all children. It can respond to a variety of situations an individual child might encounter.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) defines a child protection system as: “the set of laws, policies, regulations and services needed across all social sectors – especially social welfare, education, health, security and justice – to support prevention and response to protection-related risks. These systems are part of social protection, and extend beyond it […]. Responsibilities are often spread across government agencies, with services delivered by local authorities, non-State providers, and community groups, making coordination between sectors and levels, including routine referral systems, a necessary component of effective child protection systems.”

Towards integrated child protection systems

EU Member States are obligated to protect children from all forms of violence. They should, therefore, undertake the appropriate legislative, administrative, social, and educational measures to effectively protect children. This obligation derives from international and European human rights legal documents, including particularly the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in Articles 3 and 19 and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union in Article 24.

The European Commission Communication 'An EU Agenda for the rights of the child', adopted in 2011, aims to step up efforts to protect and promote child’s rights and to ensure they are effective in practice. While implementing this EU agenda, EU legislation has evolved both to reflect the UN Convention’s and the Charter’s provisions and language on the rights of the child and to reiterate, as a primary consideration, the principle of the child’s best interests.

The 'EU Strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings 2012–2016' reflected the importance of developing EU guidance on integrated child protection systems. It calls on Member States to strengthen child protection systems, underlining that "comprehensive child-sensitive protection systems that ensure interagency and multidisciplinary coordination are key in catering to diverse needs of diverse groups of children". The 2012 7th European Forum on the Rights of the Child looked at the role of such systems across a range of situations that children encounter. At the 8th forum the following year, the Commission announced that in 2014 it would develop guidance for integrated child protection systems.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in its 2011 General Comment 13 on Article 19: 'The right of the child to freedom of all forms of violence', provides authoritative guidance on:

  • overcoming isolated, fragmented and reactive initiatives to address child protection;
  • developing a coordinating framework for eliminating violence through comprehensive child rights-based protection measures.

An integrated child protection system that puts emphasis on prevention must adopt a child rights, not a welfare, approach. This requires holistic implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. General Comment 5 (2003) provides guidance to States on the measures required to effectively implement the convention.

The Council of Europe, in line with the recommendations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and of the UN’s 'Study on Violence against Children', issued guidelines to promote the development and implementation of a holistic national framework to safeguard the rights of the child and to eradicate violence against children. The Council of Europe 'Policy guidelines on integrated national strategies for the protection of children from violence' (2009) propose a multidisciplinary and systematic national framework to prevent and respond to all acts of violence against children.