It is now well documented by studies and practical experience that Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) is essential to ensure proper support in a crucial phase for the physical, and emotional wellbeing of children with disabilities or at risk of developmental delays. Across the continent Early Childhood Intervention programmes have been flourishing, though their frameworks of operation appear often fragmented and not accompanied by sustainable funding to allow for high-quality standards.
EASPD, in collaboration with the ECI Agora project, has compiled a wide report on the state of play of early childhood intervention in a number of States: Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, Greece, Poland and Slovakia, as well as Albania, including recommendations for EU policy makers in its new report “Early Childhood Intervention in Europe – How can the EU support children with disabilities from the very first step?”
The webinar welcomed speakers from each of these countries representing both civil society and Commission’s desk officers responsible for the development of national reports. The webinar provided the opportunity to discuss the challenges faced by service providers across Europe and how to address them. While each country has a different situation, it is evident that a number of cross-cutting issues that can be seen across Europe.
To ensure the provision of high-quality ECI systems European countries need to
- Adopt a comprehensive ECI framework at national level, for example through national guidelines or a national strategy.
- Integrate and coordinate the work of health, social and education ministries to present a coherent and unified policy towards ECI services.
- Ensure there is adequate, sustainable funding. While the EU can promote investment in services for children, national budgets need to make it sustainable and reliable, and not overly depend on external funding.
- Enhance the training of staff
- Promote family-centered models of services
- Facilitate the exchange of know-how and good models
Géraldine Libreau, from the Schools unit of the Commission, shared the work of the working group on Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC), where representatives from all Member States as well civil society experts such as EASPD have been developing for the past two years reports and recommendations to implement quality services for children. These reports, to be published in the coming months, will present recommendations and good practices to professionalise ECEC staff, improve the attractiveness of the sector, and improve the inclusiveness and accessibility of services.
However, as Réka Tunyogi, representing Eurochild and the Alliance for Investing in Children, and Thomas Bignal, policy advisor at EASPD, underlined: legislation is not enough. Adequate funding that recognises the needs of services, children and their families is badly needed.
If the European Union wants to achieve its objectives of combatting child poverty and develop more inclusive societies, it needs to invest in its most vulnerable children. The Child Guarantee is a great opportunity to achieve this, and we must ensure that this initiative is well-developed, for example by answering its online consultation. Funding for children also needs to be well represented in the currently discussed new European Multiannual Financial Framework.
With a strong and clear message from civil society and the European Commission that now is the time to invest in services for vulnerable children, the European Semester needs to adapt and give a stronger push for inclusive, family-centred services for vulnerable children. Through its recommendations, the Semester will unlock the potential of EU funds such as ESF and ERDF, and pave the way for more in-depth national and regional reforms.
In line with today’s webinar where connections and cooperation were created as the discussions developed, EASPD looks forward to working with our partners at European and national levels to develop the high-quality family-centred services our children deserve.
- EASPD report: “Early Childhood Intervention in Europe – How can the EU support children with disabilities from the very first step?”
- ECI Agora Report: "Early Childhood Intervention in Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia: A situation analysis based on the Developmental Systems Model"
Note to editors
The European Association of Service providers for Persons with Disabilities is a non-profit European umbrella organization, established in 1996, and currently representing over 17,000 social and health services for persons with disabilities. EASPD advocates effective and high-quality disability-related services in the field of education, employment and individualised support, in line with the UN CRPD principles, which could bring benefits not only to persons with disabilities, but to society as a whole.