EU policy debate – March 11 2019 Young People Discuss Protection and Alternative Care with Policymakers Protecting children at risk The European Commission hosted a roundtable with SOS Children’s Villages International on 11 March in Brussels to discuss quality child protection and care systems. Young people from SOS Children’s Villages addressed policymakers, directly sharing their own experiences. Recognizing that approximately 10% of all children worldwide are at risk of losing or have already lost the care of their family, the debate called for more investments into policies and measures to prevent family breakdown and provide quality alternative care for children until adulthood in countries neighbouring the European Union and countries in development. Richard Pichler, Special Representative for External Affairs and Resources, SOS Children’s Villages International, stated: “As a society, we have an essential task: to step up efforts to prevent that children lose parental care, to enable parents to be parents and children to be children and, at the same time, have a system of quality care in place which is in the best interest of the individual child.” The event was co-hosted by Johannes Hahn, European Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, and Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development. Participants at the event included officials from the European Commission’s Directorate General for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR), the Directorate General for International Development and Cooperation (DG DEVCO) and the European External Action Service (EEAS) as well as from SOS Children’s Villages programs. Youth participation European officials heard directly from youth representatives who have lost parental care. Young people from Uganda, Benin, Algeria and Albania shared their experiences and gave recommendations to policymakers. Agnès Dogo, a 13-year old girl from an SOS Children’s Village in Benin, shared her own experience in alternative care, saying: “Children and young people should be protected because it is their right; their abilities should be strengthened because they are the present and future of humanity.” Directors of the SOS Children’s Villages in Belarus, Benin and Kosovo also spoke on the panel. Burim Behluli, National Program Development Director, SOS Children’s Villages Kosovo said: “Protecting a child means protecting a future state.” The debate was preceded by a preparatory meeting of participants of SOS Children’s Villages programs on 10 March, in Brussels. The meeting allowed participants to exchange ideas on how to address policymakers, define key asks and get to know each other. The way forward Policymakers of the European Commission were keen to hear suggestions from participants of SOS Children’s Villages on how to ensure that no child is left behind. Participants concluded that policies and measures need to meet a holistic approach looking at the full lifecycle of growing up until early adulthood which should include services for young people who have come of age and start an independent life. In addition, the EU is currently negotiating its budget for the next seven years. Those negotiations will also set the EU’s ambitions in different policy areas, including relations with neighboring countries, international development and poverty reduction. Valerie Ceccherini, EU Representative for SOS Children's Villages International, noted: “It is time to turn commitments into action. This means investing in efficient prevention of family breakdown, the provision of quality care, and helping empower children who have lost parental care - one of the most vulnerable groups worldwide.” Child rights organizations such as SOS Children’s Villages International can provide findings and share expertise from their programs on the ground with policymakers to ensure policies meet children’s needs, said Ms Ceccherini. Children and youth need to be continuously empowered to ensure their participation in all processes related to their lives, she added.