TALLINN - Estonian Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo said at a high-level European Child Guarantee Conference in Prague that while in Estonia, the number of children living in poverty has been decreasing with each passing year and access is ensured to education and health care, these problems remain in many other European states.
In Estonia, meanwhile, challenges in this field include access to suitable housing and mental health services.
In order to ensure that children growing up in the countries of the European Union have opportunities to realize their strengths and potential, each member state has prepared its own child guarantee action plan.
"In Estonia, we see that special attention must be paid to children with special needs, including mental health concerns, children who have experienced violence, children in foster care and children growing up with one parent," Riisalo said.
The minister said that it is particularly important to review the assistance of children with special needs in different areas in order to reduce duplication and the time required to provide assistance.
"Amendment proposals are being developed in cooperation with the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education and Research. It needs to be a primary concern for our society, so that children with special needs and their families can get help easily and fast," she added.
Among other things, the Estonian child guarantee action plan also includes the creation of a national family reconciliation service, which will come into effect on September 1 this year; developing and improving the availability of programs supporting couple and family relationships and parent education aimed at young people and parents; improving the conditions for paying sickness and care allowance for parents of young children after returning to work from parental leave; and updating and harmonizing the package of support measures for families with one parent.
The aim of the child guarantee action plan is to ensure that children at risk of poverty and social exclusion have access to key services -- free access to early childhood education and childcare, education and school-based activities, at least one healthy meal every school day, free access to quality healthcare as well as access to healthy nutrition and suitable housing.
All the activities planned in the child guarantee action plan are linked to the Estonia 2035 strategy as well as existing development strands for supporting the wellbeing of children and families.
A new dimension in terms of child guarantee is refugee children. The lives and dreams of these children have been destroyed but assisting them is at the core of our European values, Riisalo said. Participants in the conference agreed that we must jointly stand up for the rights of Ukrainian children to live a normal life and get an education.
"When the war ends, our duty to the children who have found refuge from the war in our countries is to send them back home well cared for, educated and healthy. Because this is what every child deserves," Riisalo said.
The inclusion of children and young people in decision-making processes was also addressed in depth at the conference. The young people present at the conference expressed a clear desire for their ideas to be heard and passed on into policymaking. The ministers agreed that the concerns and suggestions of young people should be fairly taken into account.
In addition, Riisalo made a public proposal to regularly take time to meet with young people and discuss the issues concerning them.