Just a few days before the European Commission published its (hopefully) first package on the Social Pillar of the European Union, parents from 18 different European countries gathered in Paphos, Cyprus for the conference of EPA (European Parents’ Association) on ‘A More Socially Just Europe for Children and Parents?!’ on 22-24 April. The event was the opportunity to launch a major EPA position paper on The Best Interest of the Young Child, and participants also built their vision of a socially just Europe in interactive plenary and workshop sessions.
The Best Interest of the Young Child paper on early childhood education needs and provisions from a parents’ perspective is a result of a Europe-wide consultation and based on the widest possible consensus of national parents’ association from Nordic to Southern countries.
According to the paper “a good start in life is crucial for well-being, and is also crucial not only for physical, but also for social, emotional and cognitive development in later ages. A good start is best provided by parents in the framework of the home and the family. Part of this good start is the education and care provided by parents, the starting point of lifelong learning that will not end before the end of your life. When defining early childhood education and care needs, designing provisions and allocating budget, the guiding principles must be the best interest of the child and the right of the parents to decide how they want to educate and care for their children – being their primary educators – having this best interest as a superior principle.”
The primary demand of parents’ associations is that parents must be given freedom to make decisions for their children and these decisions should not be restricted by any financial constraints or legislative measures. It is important that governments and the EU understand diversity and adapt systems to that. It needs high level commitment to provisions and also the systematic application of the principle of subsidiarity. It should also be a principle to give space for the voice of children in a balanced way to ensure parents’ rights at the same time.
Parents’ association representatives gathered in Paphos also defined what a social package should include in a country or in a Europe that fulfils its obligations towards children and their families as regulated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The general wish is to cease seeking equal opportunities approaches and replace them by equitable measures to support upward mobility and social justice. The participants highlighted four areas, in-kind support and shelter, financial provisions and social security, health care, and training for parents.
Keeping in mind the principle that children must not be taken away from the family for financial reasons only, there should be free shelter for families in need, so that they can stay together as a family. It has also proven to be helpful to provide starter packages for families with children at an important milestone in their lives, eg. for newborns, those starting school or leaving school. To ensure the right to education it would be necessary to ensure a free option of education as stated in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. According to a 2015 survey by EPA there is no country in Europe where there is such a free option, parents must pay for certain services or compulsory accessories. School books, stationery and free public transport should be available as well as cheap starter computers and internet access for a 21st century education. Necessary medication and vaccines should also be available for all families, free for those in need, so that no child’s health is endangered by financial constraints.
In the field of financial provisions, parents’ associations strongly support basic income for all. It is also a demand to go back to the discarded Maternity Leave Directive and make a minimum of 1 year of flexible, fully paid parental leave available for everybody in Europe. It is also important to ensure sick leave for parents for times of their children’s illnesses.
To ensure well-being, health is an important factor. Free health care should be provided to all children, including unborn ones, meaning free prenatal care for pregnant mothers. Free health care for children must include medication, dentist and necessary orthodontics, glasses and other medical aids. There should be an annual payment ceiling for all for prescription medicine. Those with special dietary needs should also have access to subsidised products.
To support parents in their decision making for their children and in their job as primary educators, governments and the European Union should support the sharing of information and knowledge on good parenting, offer financial provisions for parents’ training, especially peer training, rather than training provided by others. It should start during pregnancy, when parental training should be as wide-spread as medical preparatory classes. It is important to ensure training and information relevant to the age of children to get the most important messages reach parents.
In the Social Pillar package published by the European Commission there are some elements that sound promising as a starting point to build a more socially just Europe, especially for the future, our children. It is the hope of parents’ associations in Europe that it is only a first in a series of packages and the forthcoming ones will focus more on the people rather than the needs of the labour market and trade unions. Parents’ associations and EPA being their umbrella organisation are ready to support the creation of further elements of the Pillar, especially to make sure that after putting the plastering on it missing building bricks will not result in its collapse.
Press contact: Eszter Salamon, President firstname.lastname@example.org