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Title: ESPN thematic report on progress in the implementation of the 2013 EU recommendation on “Investing in children : breaking the cycle of disadvantage”
Authors: Vassallo, Mario
Borg, Anna
Keywords: Children -- Services for -- Malta
Child welfare -- Malta
Labor market -- Malta
Gender equality -- Malta
Labor laws and legislation -- Malta
Employee rights -- Malta
Issue Date: 2017
Publisher: European Commission. European Social Policy Network (ESPN)
Citation: Vassallo, M. & Borg, A. (2017). ESPN thematic report on progress in the implementation of the 2013 EU recommendation on “Investing in children: breaking the cycle of disadvantage”. European Social Policy Network (ESPN), Brussels: European Commission.
Abstract: Malta is concerned about the fact that, despite a growing economy over the last few years, poverty, though not so obvious at the surface level, persists. However, substantial gains have been achieved in the form of a reduction in the number of persons at risk of poverty, as a result of very specific policies. The overall reduction in at-risk-of-poverty levels is readily reflected in households with children. Single parents with children have experienced the best rate of positive change, but concerns remain in relation to two-adult households with one dependent child. Change has been brought about primarily as a result of a two-pronged approach: a) job creation; and b) targeted measures and initiatives. The basic tenet of planners has been that the availability of jobs is the most secure way to decrease poverty. In the context of a growing economy this was achieved, and effectively Malta has transformed itself from an emigration country into an immigration country with many non-nationals seeking work in Malta. The availability of work opportunities by itself does not necessarily reduce poverty, and these had to be complemented by targeted initiatives and various active labour market schemes and policies – in order to stimulate the employment rates of those who were previously relying on benefits and those who were not in work or seeking employment, especially women. These measures include the ‘tailoring of benefits scheme’, which allows individuals to retain social benefits for a specific period; and the ‘in-work benefit scheme’, which provides a financial top-up to low-earners with children in order to make work pay. Simultaneously, free childcare was provided to working parents, and breakfast clubs were introduced in government schools. During the summer months parents can send their children to Skolasajf, summer schools which concentrate on character formation and skill development. Special units, such as the multi-disciplinary CDAU (Child Development Advisory Services), seek to address unusual problems affecting children at a very early stage. It is to be noted that free childcare was not aimed primarily at solving children’s own problems but those of their parents, and as such the scheme does not meet the criteria of breaking the cycle of disadvantage for all children. However, in overall terms these active labour market schemes have been positive even if not universal. There are still gaps in access, especially in respect of family units caught in situations that in no way allow them to benefit from existing work opportunities − because they are afflicted by mental ill-health, addiction problems, abuse or other social problems. The argument that measures should not entice persons to remain dependent on social security is a very strong one, but schemes that specifically cater for these residual groups are necessary and urgent. A number of national strategies have been launched over the last few years to address major specific issues, primary among which are early school-leaving and obesity. It is still quite early to assess the long-term effect of these policies, but the fact that they now exist reflects an awareness that targeted action is required. What has not been firmly addressed yet are the problems associated with the institutional care of children. Children’s homes, originally set up by the Church, have been radically reformed by their carers. Fostering has become much more widespread. But the homes lack the level of institutional state support required, especially to address the problems created by children with very challenging behaviour. Not only are specialised services insufficient because of a lack of funding, but the long-felt need has not been addressed for a specialised, rehabilitation-oriented but secure place, manned by professionals, to deal with the very severe issues created by this group of children with very challenging behaviour. The role of children in decision-making in areas directly affecting them is still very limited in Malta, but the Commissioner for Children and the President’s Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society have taken seminal steps in this regard, and one hopes these will be followed through.
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