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Month: August 2020

Breaking the cycle of child poverty is not possible without primarily targeting parents

The European Commission has published a roadmap on the so-called Child Guarantee, a scheme to combat child poverty, one of the largest challenges to many European countries. In our current position paper an evidence-based reaction is presented in reaction to the roadmap by Parents International raising the voice of a main stakeholder group, parents and guardians supported by our own and secondary research. It is a detailed reaction to the overall approach of the document as well as feedback on the planned actions and the lack of other necessary ones. The roadmap claims to make an attempt at breaking the cycle of poverty but fails to address the issue in the only way that can actually result in that rather than helping today’s children without any sustainable results: supporting and empowering the parents and family raising the child. For this reason, Parents International is obliged to offer the research base as well as an experience-based demand on behalf of those legally responsible for protecting children, their parents and legal guardians.

The document contains but a single mention of parents in the context of “providing adequate income”, and fails to even acknowledge the fact that measures targeting children directly (free meals, free school supplies, food provisions at school) have proven to recreate the need for the same support in the next generation, thus do not break the cycle. At the same time there is clear and strong research evidence clearly showing that providing parents with adequate parenting support and income while making them accountable for providing for their children actually breaks the cycle as it provides children with the necessary, responsible parenting example. The Norwegian approach of family support is an example that should be taken into consideration in this respect being closest to the desirable solution.

The document does not aim to deviate from the already well-known EU approach of setting up and directly financing services that governments find suitable rather than creating an environment that enables parents to make informed choices for their children having no financial constrains also violates basic parents’ rights stipulated in Articles 5 and 18 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Equitable access to services that correspond to families’ real needs is prevented by these policies as only well-off parents have an actual choice while vulnerable families are in the trap of “take it or leave it” having no opportunity to choose what is best for their children, but they have to opt in or opt out of an often single state-financed option. Parents’ organisations as well as organisations working with or for parents and children have long demanded funding schemes that treat services equally and do not punish parents for wishing to use services that are for the best interest of their children rather than ones chosen by states.

It calls for governments to create multi-annual plans, but as it targets a field that is national competence there is little hope those countries that have the largest share of the problem (Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania) will do anything. This is especially true for Hungary that denies the presence of child poverty while having the second highest percentage of children living in poverty in the European Union.

Looking into the services listed as ones to be tackled by the Child Guarantee the first, most shocking, but taking the above into consideration not surprising element is that family and parenting support is totally missing. This should be a priority and a pre-requisite for breaking the vicious circle of poverty.

With regards to Early Childhood Education and Care the roadmap is only aiming at increasing the percentage of children in institutionalised education from an early age. While it is important to offer such services to working parents, it has long been demanded by parents’ organisations, based on WHO recommendations and child development knowledge to implement such programmes in a way that clearly discourages families from using these facilities in the first year to ensure breast feeding and not promoting institutionalisation before the end of separation anxiety. This would require adequate financial provisions for families that consider the best interest of the child and thus opt out of institutionalised education, but also for empowering parents as educators as the crucial role of the first 2 years for later life success is also well-proven.

Health care is the area that is the most accessible of all services in Europe. What the document fails to mention is that the actual problem area is pre-natal care that is not accessible for people living in poverty in many countries thus endangering children in these families already from before they are born. Another area that needs to be scrutinised is vaccination. There are two main tendencies that endanger children’s well-being: anti-vaccination movements and compulsory vaccination schemes that threatens families with removing the child from the family. Both of these are detrimental for child well-being and the EU needs to move in the direction of parental empowerment in this field, too, providing for trustful relationships between parents and paediatricians offering a strong basis for conscious and informed parental decisions on opting in, opting out and creating vaccination schedules that are best for the individual child. Vaccination must be free for all children, but free availability must not be accompanied by making them compulsory.

With regards to education the statement that in all Member States education is free is false. According to our own, EU-wide research there is no EU Member State where education is free and this fact is a main barrier to access. What is more, in the majority of Member States parents are prevented from making choices in the best interest of their child as government funding is often much lower or missing for certain schools. To break the cycle of child poverty, it is of utmost importance that parents are not prevented from sending their children to the school that can support them in reaching their full potential by lack of own financial resources. There are EU Member States where special education needs are often only catered for in schools not affordable for parents living in poverty, while – due to poor access to pre-natal care – these families are more likely to have special needs children.

The European Union cannot afford to have a single child starving, but this must not be achieved by free meals attached to school or other institutional attendance. The recent school closures due to coronavirus have clearly shown how wrong this approach is leaving tens of thousands of children without adequate meals. This, on a much smaller scale, is true at any given time, food support must not punish children that are ill and cannot attend school or on vacation. At the same time there should be schemes to support families in changing their diet both for preventing children from starting and preventing obesity. All programmes that have tried to achieve the later against the family have failed, the most famous of these failures being the one by Jamie Oliver.

Finally, access to culture and leisure has little to do with being able to afford leisure equipment. Member States must ensure that all non-formal education services are equally accessible for children, regardless their parents’ financial situation or disability. Culture and leisure are not to be tackled on their own, but in the wider framework of education. Promoting and financing open education schemes that build on the collaboration and cooperation between formal, non-formal and informal education is key to this. There are successful community approaches that can serve as an example that provide formal education as well as various nonformal and informal learning opportunities such as culture, arts and sports activities as well as library services locally, under the same or coordinated management, adjusted to the needs of local communities. The key to achieve this is to rigorously implement one of the main principles of the EU, subsidiarity. National programmes are deemed to fail having little to no knowledge of local community needs, thus decisions must be made locally while it is the responsibility of the state to make adequate funding available for local communities for this.

To end this input Parents International is ready to offer support in re-shaping the initiative to really serve its purpose: to break the cycle of poverty. Consultation with parents is dearly missing from the action plan, and while it is absolutely necessary to consult those responsible for providing for children, their parents, Parents International can provide research evidence and policy support, bringing in the parental perspective via our members from all EU Member States, parents organisations as well as organisations working with or for parents, often the most vulnerable ones. The EU’s action can only be informed by successful initiatives from outside of Europe that Parents International is also ready to help.

Digital Future: Help Parents Overcome the Fear of the Unknown

parenting for a digital futureParenting for a Digital Future – How Hopes and Fears about Technology Shape Children’s Lives is a new and very important book for parents and professionals working with parents by Prof. Sonia Livingstone and her co-author, Alicia Blum-Ross. The book provides ample first-hand research evidence as well as evidence-based reflections about various challenges parents face in a more and more digitalised world. The issue of bringing up children in a digitalised environment has become far more topical recently, due to school closures around the world. In a world that demands more and more from parents, this book can be a flashlight helping parents to find their own path and help professionals to support parenting in the right way – while ensuring us all that there is not only one “right”.

Sonia Livingstone has long been an important voice in the field of digital media and parenting, one of the few who always advocated for a positive approach and the need for empowerment rather than the more common approach of both academia and NGOs, trying to impose legal restrictions and making people frightened by sharing horror stories. The new book is a powerful tool for advocates of digital age as an opportunity.

The research presented went deep into all aspect of the digital age, and catalogues nearly all areas parents might have doubts or questions in raising children in a world that depends more and more on digital technology. They draw a colourful picture showing many different approaches to digital realities, the use of technology, impact of digital developments on the present and future life of children. It investigates how digital technology use has changed the daily lives of families, ensuring all parents that there is no “right” solution.  At the same time the book also tries to finally make people finish talking about screen time in general, and helps us to have a much-needed nuanced approach to passive and active screen time.

Inequalities, one of the most crucial elements of the whole digitalisation reality, get a major highlight. Again, it is dealt with in a very delicate way, showing an important element of reality: it is much less of a problem to get physical access to technology, the core challenge is about the amount of support, scaffolding parents can offer their children. We can clearly see why it is of utmost importance that the focus is on parenting support in order to enable all parents to educate their children well. This way, this book can be added to the evidence-base toolbox of all parenting experts.

We can also see how digital technology is probably the first tool to build a bridge for the inclusion of children with special needs. As education and services try to reflect the needs of individual children, and thus more and more special needs are catered for, we need to stop for a moment and reflect on all advantages of digital technology as well as raise all questions around potential harm. Parenting for a Digital Future offers a balanced view in this respect, too.

Being focused on digital technology per se, we may need to look into the broader impact of technology together, as this is the area where the book raised more questions in us as readers than offered answers in. For example, the chapter on education, clearly written before the coronavirus school closure period, solely focuses on learning digital and not using digital as an additional and flexible resource. However, it is still very much in line with what Sir Ken Robinson, who died the day before the writing of this book review, had pledged for in education.

Parenting for a Digital Future is a surprisingly easy read. It is full of short examples and anecdotes from the qualitative research the authors have carried out. It makes the reader reflect on realities, understand the importance of approaching parenting support with multicultural awareness and in a non-judgemental manner. We can only recommend you to read this new publication if you are a parent, a teacher, a teacher trainer or a professional working with parents with children of any age. It is education professionals who are more likely to know more than average about this topic. We would definitely like to see the book in their hands, but also in the hands of other trusted professionals parents go to for advice (paediatricians, social workers, NGO workers). It is an essential read for all advocates of child rights who want to have an impact on legislation and methodology tackling all implications of digital technology and digital realities. Bearing in mind that parents are the most impactful educators of their children, this book is a must-read for those who wish to empower the primary educators for a bright future of our children – that nearly certainly will be digital.

Parental view on the European Education Area

The European Commission has initiated a public consultation on their Roadmap towards a European Education Area. Based on the experiences of our research done for the #NewEducationDeal #ParentsFirst initiative we have publicly shared a parental view on where the plans are in line with families’ and students’ needs and what requires bolder than planned steps. The public consultation is based on this document. Read our reaction below. We will closely monitor the next steps and lobby as necessary for a better education for children in Europe.

Making the European Education Area a reality is a crucial element of ensuring the future of Europe and the future of European children. The issues highlighted in the roadmap are all very relevant, and we would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of them based on our research and #NewEducationDeal campaign results. We believe that the current EU initiative is aiming at achieving SDG4, and we find it very important to focus on equity and inclusion with a strong support through open schooling, participatory processes and diversity.

A European Education Area should boldly aim for ensuring fundamental rights of children and – using the European Pillar of Social Rights initiative example – to go beyond the re-occurring explanation that education is national competence. Europe cannot afford weak school systems educating future unemployed citizens, and also there is a need for EU member states to work towards ensuring all education related rights, including the right to quality, inclusive education, an uninterrupted seamless transition from school to school over borders in state financed schools as well as mother tongue and mother culture education even if a child’s parents decide to exercise their basic right to be mobile EU workers. This is a topic the EU has not done anything about yet, and it results in a major rights deprivation of young EU citizens living in countries where their mother tongue is not an official language, and governments strictly implementing education in their official language(s) only.

With regards to the roadmap, first of all we want to highlight the importance of using the word educators very carefully and broadly. The European Commission tends to mean professional educators or even only teachers by educators, while especially the past few months have highlighted parents as primary educators. This role of parents as educators has been known for decades, but legislation often overlooks the need to empower parents, the primary – first and most impacting – educators of children.

Another element we would like to highlight is the link between rethinking basic competences and reaching the aim of educating lifelong learners. Our research shows that content-heavy curricula and education inflation are often main reasons for people abandoning learning. An agreement on what basic skills, competences and knowledge are to be fostered by school is a basis for preventing early school leaving and also for people to be become lifelong learners. Parents International has built a wide coalition to define these necessary basics, consisting of education stakeholders, academics, the world of work and other players. We are happy to contribute when the debate on this is being organised as we have already invested into it heavily both in Europe and globally.

I’m enclosing the Parents International call for action #NewEducationDeal #ParentsFirst highlighting the most important areas parents wish to be engaged in – being part of constructing new policy and practice together.  #NewEducationDeal is a global parent initiative with a very strong research base, emphasising learning points of the current COVID mayhem and parent experiences in general with the aim of achieving SDG4. This initiative has been widely supported by governments (including some EU member states), school leaders, education stakeholders and academia, and we hope that the current roadmap is also a step towards making the wish of parents and families in education for a better future for today’s children a reality.

The final element we would like to emphasise is the need to involve not only your “social partners”, but at least the main education stakeholders: students of all ages (even the youngest ones), parents, school leaders and teachers, as well as teacher training providers in all steps of the decision making process. Without this the initiative is deemed to fail.

(This statement could not be more detailed due to length restrictions by the European Commission.)