As another step towards European unification, early May 2004 saw European Union enlargement to the east. In the light of the development of a common European economic area, it is, however, also necessary to launch a pan-European initiative to confront social challenges throughout Europe.
One of the social challenges is to secure the well-being of children and youths who cannot live with their biological families and thus have to be placed in out-of-home care. Three large international organisations active in the area of out-of-home child care have launched an initiative with a project called "Quality4Children". The goal of the project is to secure and improve development opportunities for hundreds of thousands of children and youths in Europe who cannot live with their biological families.
SOS Children's Villages, IFCO (International Foster Care Organisation) and FICE (Féderation Internationale des Communautés Educatives) co-operate closely on implementing the project. 32 European countries are involved in the project.
In the light of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Quality4Children is designed to help implement and evaluate quality standards in out-of-home child care in Europe. The following tasks are included in the detailed project proposal:
- Appoint project co-ordinators in 32 European countries. The national co-ordinators underwent training for the tasks to be performed during two meetings at the SOS Children's Villages Hermann Gmeiner Academy in June and October 2004. Through their strong commitment and know-how in the area of out-of-home child care, these people provide the crucial contribution to making the project a success.
- In all 32 countries involved, national co-ordinators and their teams record successful practices (good practices) of out-of-home child care. Using narrative research methods such as "storytelling", affected children and youths, their biological families and educators are interviewed, thus securing crucial involvement in the development of quality standards. Four youths who had been placed in out-of-home-care themselves have become actively involved in managing the project as members of the project's steering committee.
- The first European congress "Quality4Children" from 1-2 June 2005 in Gmunden (Austria) will be organised to introduce the project to a broad expert audience and to provide an overview on the variety of efforts to improve development opportunities for disadvantaged children and youths in Europe.
- In the context of a workshop for 32 national teams from 3-4 June 2005 in Gmunden, results from the 32 European countries will be presented and compiled for further processing.
- Follow-up pan-European working groups are called upon to further develop preliminary results and thus define quality standards.
- Defined quality standards are scheduled to be available by late 2006, the implementation of which will be supported by implementation plans and regular evaluation activities.
- Simultaneously implementing the particular project phases results in the building of a European network of field workers, scientists, political representatives as well as those of the youth welfare authorities. This new network is then also connected to existing networks creating a broad support base for implementing and further developing quality standards in out-of-home child care.
SOS Children's Villages considers this project a huge opportunity for co-operating with two international organisations which are also active in the area of out-of-home child care. In addition, the three organisations can together work as a strong driving force behind improving development opportunities for all children and youths in Europe who cannot live with their biological families. The commitment to present a united front in fighting for the well-being of children in out-of-home care is set to continue after the conclusion of the project "Quality4Children".