Supported by the Rights, Equality and Citizenship (REC) Programme of the European Union.
Summary of the project
- Promotion and capacity building on multi-disciplinary assessment of risk, needs and resources, planning of support services and treatment
- Capacity building on participation of children and families, reflection of ethical issues in assessment and intervention
- Enhancing cultural sensitivity in interventions in families in vulnerable situations (e.g. ethnic minorities, disability)
- Development of train the trainer program with modules and online tool box, applicable to implementation in all MS
- Establishment of EU-wide interdisciplinary network of trainers/policy makers
- Analysis of available studies/programs/publications (e.g. on assessment tools in child protection; trauma informed support planning; what works in interdisciplinary cooperation, in interdisciplinary training on rights of the child; exploring alternative routes to participation; specific challenges in alternative care settings, incl. disabled children; good practices of talking to children and determining best interests; cooperation with police/criminal justice system)
- Updating information on multi-agency approaches in child protection systems in all MS, incl. Icelandic children’s advocacy center and its adaptation in MS; transformation of research on ethical dilemmas and cultural encounters in child protection interventions into content for training
- Workshops with international experts and APs to discuss/evaluate training program
- Development of train the trainer program in 8 languages, incl.
- universally applicable modules (e.g. talking to children, challenges/facilitators for interdisciplinarity/cooperation, developmental psychology on risk/endangerment, tension between right to family and right to live free from violence)
- modules to be adapted to specifics of national system (e.g. participation/involvement of children/families in decision making [e.g. family group conference, perpetrator programs]; interdisciplinary assessment; transfer between assessment and administrative/judicial proceedings; protection of children in institutions, of ethnic minorities, with disabilities)
- gathering/development of online training materials (e.g. interactive multi-media tools, films, key messages, data base)
- Workshop with international experts and APs to evaluate/discuss program and its transnational applicability
- Testing of program with practitioners in consortium states, evaluation, modification
- Testing in AP states, evaluation, modification
- Seminar for trainers in consortium states
- Dissemination of program (e.g. EU-wide presentation on internet, newsletters, publications, conferences)
- Identifying/engaging European trainers/policy makers in an interdisciplinary network
- Conference for policy makers/key persons in consortium states
- International conference for policy makers from all MS
Type/number of persons benefiting from the project
- 100-120 trainers in fields of social work, health care, service providers, police, courts, prosecutors, lawyers, guardians ad litem, schools, child care
- 60-80 practitioners from different professions/institutions
- 80-100 policy makers/key persons in consortium states
- 30-50 policy makers from all MS
- 300-500 trainers/policy makers as participants of EU-wide network
- Multiple of numbers of practitioners throughout Europe as recipients of training program by trained trainers
- Children and parents
- Enhancement of capacity in participatory multi-disciplinary assessment of risk, needs and resources in child protection proceedings
- Initiation of policy and structural changes in consortium/AP States
- Raising of awareness/interest in training on participative multi-agency assessment and intervention in MS
- Transnational exchange of expertise
Type and number of outputs of the project
- Train the trainer program with modules and online available tool box in 8 languages
- Evaluation of/publication on multi-agency cooperation in child protection proceedings in MS
- EU-wide network of trainers/policy makers
Definition of the problem and objectives of the project
In the feasibility study the European commission suggested multi-disciplinarity as a minimum standard for the assessment of a child’s endangerment/risk (EC 2010a; also art. 18, 1/2 CRC; CoE Guidelines II-B-4, IV-A-5-16 ff; General comment 13, 54-c). In 2010, multi-agency approaches to assess the child’s endangerment/risk were binding requirement in 18 MS while different purposes were prescribed and professionals involved (EC 2010). The Icelandic concept of children’s advocacy centers has begun to spread Europe-wide (Meysen, Hagemann-White 2011). MS either are on their way to improve cooperation and outcomes or to implement (successful elements of) such approaches.
Social services have a focal role in securing the child’s right to live free from violence in all MS (art. 19, 2 CRC). The assessment of needs and endangerment/risk requires expertise of further professionals (e.g. from service providers, schools, police, health care, psychologists, family court, criminal justice system). Succeeding assessment and protection of children can only be achieved in cooperation. Clarification of roles, functions, attitudes, languages/understandings, and constantly reflecting the different perspectives and interests of involved stakeholders is required to achieve a comprehensive cooperation strategy in a shared and mutual responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of children.
Professional cooperation faces the task of integrating cooperation with children and families. Embedded in professional challenges of getting access to the situation of the child, assessing his/her needs and risks, and the partial loss of autonomy in interdisciplinary settings, participation of children in administrative and judicial proceedings (art. 24, 1 CFR, art. 12, 2 CRC, CoE Guidelines) is a most delicate task (Munro 2011). As are the establishment of working relationships with parents/carers, implementation of support services in the family or decision making for out-of-home placements with or without consent. Limited resources increase the difficulties to achieve direct and/or exclusive contact to the child. Fear of burdening children through questioning them, against or with consent of their parents/carers, often is an indicator for professional uncertainty and need for training (CEINAV 2014).
Participation and risk/needs assessment in groups of children in vulnerable situations gets increasing attention. Children belonging to ethnic minorities (art. 30 CRC), with disabilities (art. 23 CRC), or living in institutional care, demand additional professional skills (Beckmann, Meysen 2014; Schröttle et al. 2013). The specifics are not included in regular training programs which leads to a lack of expertise among front line workers.
Strengthening and empowering families and involving them in the assessment and decision making (e.g. FGC) is not only rights based but also more efficient, sustainable and cost effective. But participation and multi-agency assessment faces conflicts of interest concerning confidentiality and data sharing, consent and non-consent. Child protection deals with the tightrope walk of too early or too late, too much and not enough. Therefore, training programs that do not take the ethical implications into account fall short in implementation, because practitioners’ every day challenges are not met (Hagemann-White 2014).
Multi-agency approaches that integrate child participation, family involvement and cultural as well as special needs competence are necessary for the improvement of child protection proceedings but difficult to establish. Transnational accessibility of knowledge and experience from other countries needs improvement. Varying data protection provisions and child protection proceedings in the EU (EC 2010; Meysen, Hagemann-White 2011) require modifications for implementation in different MS, a train the trainer program needs to have universally applicable content as well as components suitable for adaptation to national systems.
Relevance and justification
Core of the project is to promote and facilitate the establishment of multi-agency approaches in child protection. Training is provided in an interdisciplinary setting and intends to enhance multidisciplinary capacity in a developing EU of integrated child protection systems. The project focusses on practitioners involved in the protection of children, including social workers, psychologists, health care, education, law enforcement, police, legal professionals. Active participation of children and family members not only needs expertise but also coordination between stakeholders/systems. Taking a sensitive and integrative approach to diversity, building competences on non-discriminatory differentiation is at the very foreground of the partners’ self-conception as well as the project. The development of training will consequently take into account particularities and specific requirements when it comes to assessment and intervention to protect children with disabilities (art. 26 CFR, art. 4 CRD), from ethnic minorities (art. 22 CFR), in institutions, or other vulnerable situations.
Following the assessment of the issues to be tackled in the project in national and international contexts, conducting research and working with the practical implications to improve interdisciplinary cooperation, the partners eagerly waited for an opportunity to bridge the gap between research, policy and practice. With the project the group wants to put the puzzle together to a consistent concept with a clear division of work and sophisticated building process of connecting the streams. The partners worked together in various previous programs. In preparation of the proposal, they met in person and, as EU-wide excellently linked-up institutions, had meetings and consultations with international experts.
The knowledge base on the project’s topics is profound, e.g. about how to listen/talk to children in the different age groups, forms of abuse, specific circumstances (Eriksson 2013; Ziegenhain 2006), to determine whether a child is at risk and to assess his/her needs/resources (Kindler et. al. 2006), to cooperate in interdisciplinary and/or multi-agency settings (Renitta et al. 1990; McElvaney, Lalor 2014). Training programs on participatory multi-disciplinary assessments in child protection are yet to be developed. Studies, publications on good practice, existing training materials, esp. from earlier EU based projects (Daphne, FRA et al.) need to be identified, selected, sift and excerpted for transformation into a training program with modules and online accessible tool box.
Since national child protection systems are in a constant mode of improvement, the relevant information about the national legal-institutional frameworks from the Feasibility Study (EC 2010) and the following Realising Rights Study (Meysen, Hagemann-White 2011) will be, building on the FRA mapping of child protection systems in the EU (2015), updated to secure applicability throughout the EU. The foundation for ethical and cultural issues from the HERA project Cultural Encounters in Interventions Against Violence (CEINAV 2013-2016) will be transformed into training material.
The interest in multi-agency approaches towards assessment of child endangerment/risk, needs and resources as well as planning of support services has become part of the national frameworks in MS throughout the EU (EU Agenda for the Rights of the Child 2011). Securing active participation in this professionals-oriented approach and listening to taking into consideration the child’s and the other family members’ views throughout the process easily slip away. Practice and policy makers at the bird’s eye perspective are currently searching for training that shows ways towards effective collaboration between agencies/institutions/professions which builds the base for supportive interventions, court decisions, and, at the same time, gives the child and his/her parents a shaping role in child protection proceedings.
The outcomes of the project focus on trainers and policy makers in all MS. In eight MS a significant group of approx. 12-15 trainers will be equipped with knowledge about how to train practitioners. Besides, in all MS policy makers and trainers will be identified and invited to a European network and an EU-wide seminar. With the support of a subcontractor(s) a tool box of interactive training/e-learning materials will be made available online (e.g. films, animations, key messages, webinars, polls, quizzes).
Trainers and policy makers are multipliers in their field of expertise and country. Their impact on policy secures that their knowledge is spread in the eight participating MS of the project (partners and AP). The increased sensitivity on diversity and cultural competence in multi-agency cooperation for the assessment of and interventions against child abuse and neglect will place the usually hidden specifics in the front row. Dealing with children in vulnerable situations and with different cultural backgrounds is intended not to be the complex “other” but integrated part of professionalism when dealing with individual families and fates of children in an inclusive manner.
Multi-agency and interdisciplinary cooperation is felt to be autonomy-reducing and regularly faces reluctance of practitioners. The project and its participants will send another clear statement towards the elevation of interdisciplinarity to an international minimum standard in child protection (EC 2010a; see also art. 18, 1/2 CRC). At the same time it will facilitate implementation of better cooperation between stakeholders and improve practice in the single cases.
The assessment of potential child endangerment/risk and the prognosis of how it can be prevented, stopped or handled by providing support services usually is made under the roof of the administrative child protection agencies as well as the (family) courts responsible for measures to intervene in parental rights. Assessment of children’s needs and possible trauma and methods to minimize them needs, among others, both the expertise from social work and mental health. Currently it mostly tends to be conducted in different setting, separately and not coordinated. The project will demonstrate how to link them and will help making mutual use of the various assessments prior to court proceedings as well as during and following judicial proceedings.
Interdisciplinary cooperation between agencies and professionals is a complex task in itself. It leads to a changing relationship between the different actors working together, reflecting on each other, identifying the roles and responsibilities, accountability. For trainers and policy makers the relationships to and perspectives on the clients the practitioners serve is changing as well, getting more complex and holistic. The integration of the issues of participation of the child, the involvement of the family and a permanent reflection of the ethical dilemmas that arise in child protection proceedings are crucial for improvements in practice. Research and experience show that the project will add a new and most important facet to the national and international discourse by combining multidisciplinary approaches with the right of the child to be listened to as well as the right of the family to transparency and active involvement. The outcomes will not only serve the practitioners but directly improve the quality of life of children and families, become more visible and measurable.
Over the network of and conferences for trainers and policy makers not only the knowledge will be accessible throughout Europe. Trainers in the field of child protection in the EU will find their EU-wide identifiable switch board for constant sharing of information (e.g. via a website, newsletter, contact exchange, links to relevant information) in the network.
European added value
The minimum standard (EC 2010a) that a child shall not be separated from his/her parents against their will, except when competent authorities determine it necessary for the best interests of the child, based on a multi-professional assessment according to scientific standards, will be promoted, bound to the child’s right to be heard, ethical issues, and diversity (disability, cultural backgrounds). The multi-sectorial and holistic child rights based approach of the planned European child protection guidelines will be backed up.
The program will enable to conduct training on the universally applicable modules in all MS right away. Modules and tool box will be translated into 8 languages (4 consortium/4 AP states). Other MS/regions will be supported to make modifications to secure applicability. Partners will promote the training program on international conferences and intend to continue and increase their international commitment as training institutions in the field of child protection after the project has ended.
Transnational transfer of knowledge and good practice are very strengths of the partners. DIJuF and NJI conducted consecutive indepth research on legal-organisational as well as social-cultural comparison of child protection systems in the EU (EC 2010; Meysen, Hagemann-White 2011; Beckmann, Meysen 2014). After comparing the ideal situation with evidence and practice-based knowledge regarding the quality of systems, services and professionals the NJI created conclusions and recommendations for a care continuum around child abuse. FCYA has been participating in a series of international projects (incl. EU Daphne, AGIS, L-IFE, Leonardo et al.) since 2005. It has a very broad overview over the different child protection systems and the applicability of approaches. EUCW has a long history of international cooperation in the Nordic States and FICE. All partners have experience in working with specialists for the creation of online available training materials.
Sustainability and long-term impact of the project results
Changes and modifications of policies in MS are expected just like the development of an EU based child protection/child’s rights based strategy, towards a minimum standard of interdisciplinary multi-agency approaches in the assessment of a child’s endangerment, needs and resources and planning of support services, based on the participation of children and families as well as competence and sensitivity for cultural and personal diversity.
The training will be promoted throughout the EU and will be suitable for adaptation and modification, leading to further improvements. Partners plan to offer developed trainings in their countries beyond the duration of the program. Outcomes of trainings and developments of multi-agency approaches in MS will be closely observed and integrated in follow-up activities (e.g. presentations on conferences, consultations during international experts meetings, follow-up projects). Policy makers in the MS will be supported to meet the minimum standards and to set a framework that not only obliges but also facilitates the implementation in daily practice. EU will be supported in the promotion of the minimum standards by the partners.
The project is planned as starting point for an EU-wide network of policy makers/trainers (incl. agencies/institutions/universities/NGOs) and other multipliers who make, prepare or implement policy and/or provide training in the field of child protection with long-term effects for the improvement of the quality of practice and elaboration of national systems. It will be point of contact for further research on the outcomes of multi-agency approaches for the children and families, the reception of child protection proceedings by children and parents/carers as well as the impact of their more or less successful participation on the outcomes for development of the children. Based on the policy makers’ conferences and the network, partners will promote and initiate transnational working groups on specific topics.