Engaging migrant communities in the promotion of the rights of the child


Home 9 Child protection initiatives of the European Union 9 3.2 The concept of the Integrated Child Protection System (ICPS) at EU level

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By the end of this module you will be able to:

  • Define what an Integrated Child Protection System (ICPS) is
  • Describe the key components of an ICPS

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) defines a child protection system as: “the set of laws, policies, regulations and services needed across all social sectors – especially social welfare, education, health, security and justice – to support prevention and response to protection-related risks. These systems are part of social protection and extend beyond it […]. Responsibilities are often spread across government agencies, with services delivered by local authorities, non-State providers, and community groups, making coordination between sectors and levels, including routine referral systems, a necessary component of effective child protection systems” (United Nations Children’s Fund, 2021).

The European Union calls for an integrated mechanism to provide a comprehensive solution for the diverse needs of children.

An Integrated Child Protection System (ICPS) places the child at the mechanism’s core and further promotes the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It ensures that all essential actors and systems – education, health, welfare, justice, civil society, community, and family – cooperate to prevent abuse, exploitation, neglect, and other forms of violence against children and to protect and assist children in these situations (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights).

According to research (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2015), the key components of an ICPS are:

  • A national legislative framework aimed at creating a safe environment for children.
    Not all EU member states have developed a consolidated act devoted to child protection issues, but 18 EU member states have a key legal instrument devoted to child protection and several member states are revising their child protection system.
  • A comprehensive national policy strategy or national action plan for children that builds on the framework of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. National coordination and harmonisation of strategies and policies remain a challenge in most member states.
  • Decentralised child protection responsibilities. National, regional, and local authorities share child protection responsibilities, supported by non-state, private and community actors who also play important roles. National governments have the responsibility, deriving from international, European, and national law, to promote, ensure and protect children’s rights within its jurisdiction, regardless of state structure. Almost all member states decentralise national child protection systems, assigning some responsibilities to regional or local authorities; the level of decentralisation, however, varies and for that in most of the member states there is not a single authority with overall child protection responsibility.
  • Child rights impact assessment taking place when developing laws and policies and taking administrative decisions regarding children. In many member states, the child rights impact assessment is part of the human rights or social impact assessment.
  • Child participation should be envisaged through direct contact with children and not only be mediated through non-governmental organisations and human rights institutions. Children should participate meaningfully in the planning, implementation and evaluation of policies and programmes for child protection.

The ten guiding principles of the ICPS

The European Forum on the Rights of the Child is an annual conference organised by the European Commission aimed at gathering key actors from EU member states (as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland, and the Western Balkans), international organisations, NGOs, Ombudspersons for children, practitioners, academics, and EU institutions to set and promote good practices on the rights of the child. The 2015 Forum has been dedicated to presenting and discussing ten guiding principles of the Integrated Child Protection System at EU level, which are not intended as a legal interpretation of any EU law.

The 10 Principles are based on a child-rights approach and fully recognise children as rights-holders, placing emphasis on enhancing children’s resilience and capacity to claim their rights, with due regard to the cross-cutting principles: the best interests of the child, non-discrimination, child participation and the right to life, survival and development. They represent a contribution to ensuring that national child protection systems form a protective environment around all children in all settings, responding to all forms of physical and mental violence as listed under article 19 of the UNCRC.

Principles as stated by the Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers of the European Commission in the reflection paper “Coordination and cooperation in integrated child protection systems”:

1. Every child is recognised, respected and protected as a rights holder, with non-negotiable rights to protection.

Every child is treated with dignity and as a unique and valuable human being with an individual personality, distinct needs, interests and privacy, with due regard to the child’s right to participation. There are measures to empower children to protect themselves and their peers and to claim their rights. Child-sensitive and accessible complaint and reporting mechanisms, including helplines and hotlines, are integrated in the system. Children are involved in decisions that concern them, including the development, monitoring and evaluation of child protection strategies, policies, programmes and services.

2. No child is discriminated against

All children have access to and benefit from national child protection systems on an equal basis.

3. Child protection systems include prevention measures

This may include the adoption of national legislation prohibiting all forms of violence against children in all settings, policy measures promoting child rights, awareness-raising and education for children, parents and society at large, proactive policy and outreach measures especially to discriminated against groups, parenting and family support, universal and targeted social services, integrated strategies to reduce child poverty, mechanisms for children to claim their rights, links with other policy areas, robust data collection.

4. Families are supported in their role as primary caregiver

The primary position of families in child caregiving and protection is recognised and supported through universal and targeted services, through every stage of intervention, particularly through prevention.

5. Societies are aware and supportive of the child's right to freedom from all forms of violence

There are concerted efforts to inform the public, including children, about children’s rights and encouraging action to prevent violence against children, and to prevent the stigmatisation of child victims of violence.

6. Child protection systems ensure adequate care:
  • Professionals are committed and competent. Professionals and practitioners working for and with children receive training and guidance on the rights of the child, on child protection law and procedures and more generally on child development. The necessary protocols and processes are in place to facilitate their role and responses to violence against children are inter- or multi- disciplinary.
  • Information is shared on certification and training to promote trust, including cross-border.
  • Standards, indicators and tools and systems of monitoring and evaluation are in place, under the auspices of a national coordinating framework. Systems are effectively regulated and independently monitored and accountable, ensuring accessible, quality, child-sensitive services and care for all children. The monitoring system guarantees unrestricted access to monitor the quality of services delivered, in particular for any form of institutional care.
  • Within organisations working directly for and with children, child protection policies and reporting mechanisms are in place. All agencies and service providers, civil society organisations, private associations, commercial or non-profit organisations, working directly with children have robust child protection policies.
7. Child protection systems have transnational and cross-border mechanisms in place

In view of the increasing prevalence of children in cross-border situations in need of child protection measures, efforts are stepped up by: clarifying roles and responsibilities, keeping abreast of country of origin information, ensuring a national focal point for cross-border child protection matters, adopting procedures/guidance/protocols/processes, for example for the transfer of responsibility within the context of asylum procedures (Dublin Regulation), or when considering out of country care placements, or family tracing and protection in cases of child trafficking. However, for children seeking international protection or child victims of trafficking where contact could put the child and/or family at risk, caution should be exercised.

8. The child has support and protection.

No child should be without the support and protection of a legal guardian or other recognised responsible adult or competent public body at any time. In view of the need for continuity of actions, the child protection system appoints a person of reference responsible for the child from reporting and referral through to follow-up and reintegration, to assure liaison among the different sectors and to guarantee a coherent and comprehensive response.

9. Training on identification of risks

for children in potentially vulnerable situations is also delivered to teachers at all levels of the education system, social workers, medical doctors, nurses and other health professionals, psychologists, lawyers, judges, police, probation and prison officers, journalists, community workers, residential care givers, civil servants and public officials, asylum officers and traditional and religious leaders. Rules on reporting cases of violence against children are clearly defined and professionals who have reporting obligations are held accountable.

10. There are safe, well-publicised, confidential and accessible reporting mechanisms in place

Mechanisms are available for children, their representatives and others to report violence against children, including through the use of 24/7 helplines and hotlines.


European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Child Protection Systems. Accessed on 27.01.2022 from: https://fra.europa.eu/en/content/child-protection-systems

European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (2015), Mapping Child Protection Systems in the EU. Accessed on 27.01.2022 from: https://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2016/mapping-child-protection-systems-eu#publication-tab-0

United Nations Children’s Fund (2021), Child Protection Systems Strengthening. Approach, Benchmarks, Interventions, UNICEF, New York