The European Commission and UNICEF conclude three-year pilot scheme to address child poverty and social exclusion

During a high-level ministerial event, the organizations took stock of progress achieved through the European Child Guarantee Phase III programme piloted in seven countries across Europe

19 April 2023
EU Child Guarantee - CLOSING HIGH-LEVEL EVENT, Sofia, Bulgaria
UNICEF Bulgaria/2023

BRUSSELS/GENEVA/SOFIA, Bulgaria, 20 April 2023 – The European Commission and UNICEF today, together with the representatives of the Member States, marked the achievements of a three-year pilot programme implemented in seven countries across Europe to tackle child poverty and social exclusion.  

The pilot programme tested in practice the European Child Guarantee, which aims to ensure free and equal access to key services for children in need. The initiative was implemented through a partnership between the European Commission and UNICEF Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia.  

Through the pilot programme, integrated and coordinated policies and practices aimed at reaching the most disadvantaged children were developed and tested. In Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Italy, Lithuania and Spain, the pilot programme included policy analysis, evidence gathering and consultation among key stakeholders including children - all of which helped to inform the development of European Child Guarantee National Action Plans in the respective countries. 

In Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece and Italy, the pilot programme helped reach more than 30,000 children and young adults, and 16,000 caregivers dealing with vulnerable groups, such as children with disabilities, children living in precarious family situations, children residing in institutions, and refugee and migrant children. The participants gained access to quality early childhood education and care, inclusive education and school-based activities and nutrition, healthcare, and family support, care and protection services. Close to 3,000 professionals and decision-makers received training to provide quality child guarantee services and interventions. 

In Bulgaria, the pilot program was implemented by UNICEF in partnership with the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy and was aimed at children with disabilities and developmental difficulties, children from families in precarious situations, including Roma children from marginalized communities. The pilot activities in 10 municipalities on the territory of 3 districts – Burgas, Sliven and Stara Zagora, reached 16,315 children and 10, 059 parents who received access to four types of services: visiting care for pregnant women and families with young children, early childhood intervention, inclusive pre-school education and prevention and support services. More than 800 specialists from the health, education, child protection and social protection sectors were involved in the work and received support through training. 

European Commissioner Nicolas Schmit said:

“By providing children in need with free and effective access to essential services like childcare, school meals and healthcare we can offer them a brighter future. Therefore, the Child Guarantee is an investment in their future, and in our own society’s future. I want to say a special thank you all the excellent colleagues at UNICEF who have used their expertise and manpower on the ground to make the Preparatory Action such a success.” 

“The economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine has deepened poverty among children and families across Europe. Partnerships such as ours with the European Commission are critical in establishing cost-effective, sustainable solutions that reach the most disadvantaged children, address childhood poverty at its core and prevent life-long cycles of deprivation and exclusion,” said Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia.   

‘The European Child Guarantee has demonstrated its potential for transformative change and to bridge the gap for the most disadvantaged children in Bulgaria’

- said Christina de Bruin, UNICEF Representative in Bulgaria. 

>> Watch the High Level Closing Event here

UNICEF Bulgaria/2023

In November 2022, the Government of the Republic of Bulgaria adopted an Action Plan for the implementation of the European Child Guarantee. The plan includes measures to reduce poverty among children and promote their social inclusion and activities to provide free education, healthcare and childcare, as well as access to adequate housing and nutrition, which will reach over 200,000 children from vulnerable groups. 

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Labour and Social Policy Lazar Lazarov said that ‘the implementation of the plan will contribute to the achievement of Bulgaria's ambitious target of reducing the number of children at risk of poverty or social exclusion by 196,750 by 2030 in line with the European targets. ‘When we invest in children, we invest not only in the next generation, but also in the prosperity of our societies, which will contribute to the achievement of our common goals of improving children's well-being’, he added.  

The achievements of the pilot programme were shared and discussed during a High-Level event held in Sofia, Bulgaria. It was co-hosted by the Government of Bulgaria, the European Commission and UNICEF; and attended by governments from across Europe. The event was also attended by children who brought their voices and perspectives on the European Child Guarantee.  

Through sharing lessons learnt, the event aimed to inspire Member States to accelerate their work in addressing child poverty and social exclusion, advocate for wider implementation of the ECG across Europe and beyond and utilize the ECG as a vehicle for implementing the commitments under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). 

Across the EU, about one child in four (24.4%) is at risk of poverty or social exclusion, making fight against child poverty one of the EU priorities. The European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan aims to reduce, by 2030 in comparison to 2019 levels, the number of persons at risk of poverty or social exclusion by at least 15 million, at least 5 million of whom should be children. 

In parallel, the Council Recommendation establishing a European Child Guarantee, adopted unanimously by EU Member States on 14 June 2021, aims to offset the impact of poverty on children by calling upon the Member States to provide children in need with effective access to a set of key services: free early childhood education and care, free education (including school-based activities and at least one healthy meal each school day), free healthcare, healthy nutrition, and adequate housing. The Recommendation stipulates that Member States will develop national action plans until 2030, identify specific groups of children who should benefit from the guarantee, set targets to be achieved, outline corresponding measures, indicate the sources of necessary funding and outline monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. 


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Media contacts

Boryana Gidikova
Communication Officer
UNICEF Bulgaria
Tel: +359 893 52 52 40

About UNICEF Europe and Central Asia Regional Office 

UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. 

For more information about UNICEF and its work for children in Europe and Central Asia, visit: