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.