Professionalisation of guardianship in Europe
REC rights of the child funded project
October 2017- October 2019

Whereas guardianship for unaccompanied children from third countries has developed significantly in the last decade, there still remains much room, alongside opportunities, for improvement. ProGuard aims to build on progress to date and provide important support to Member States to strengthen effective guardianship across Europe.

In 2009 Nidos initiated a European Network of Guardianship Institutions (ENGI) through the ERF community actions-project ENGI, which focussed on providing insight and recommendations for improvement of guardianship systems in the EU Member States. It was subsequently succeeded by a second phase focusing on the more operational level, through formulating standards for practitioners who work with unaccompanied children.

The projects demonstrated that guardianship for unaccompanied children was still in its infancy both on most national domestic levels and as regards coordination between national systems across Europe. This was and is mainly caused by the substantial differences between existing national systems, including variations in local, national and regional responsibilities, differences in staff on a scale from volunteer to professional, as well the nature of the organisation(s) of guardianship in national structures. In this context, the platform for exchange that ENGI created was not yet able to evolve into a formal European network which would have members from most EU Member States and would continuously stimulate the development of guardianship and represent its interests at the European level.  But it was also clear from the projects that national systems have benefited from the added value of European exchange, development and cooperation: the work on case level is very similar and often cases require cross-border contacts regarding Dublin, family reunification or other matters.

In the last few years, guardianship has made a further leap forward. Definitions of guardianship and representation in European legislation have become more detailed and references appear more often. Several pieces of research contribute to knowledge on the status quo. A milestone has been the publication of the Handbook on guardianship of children deprived of parental care, developed by the Commission and the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA). For the first time an agency at European level pushed for more mandate of, skills for and professionalism of guardians in Europe. The European Asylum Support Office (EASO) is following guardianship developments closely and a stronger focus in the European Commission on protection of children on the move emerged as well.

Compared to the situation in 2009, many countries have developed their guardianship systems, creating a firmer basis for cooperation, exchange and development. The increased number of unaccompanied children applying for protection in Europe created an even greater urgency inworking towards specialised and professionalised guardianship organisations; preferably centrally coordinated and with an appropriate mandate. In short, the time is ripe for the next step to develop a European network on guardianship.

One of the actions planned in the 2017 European Commission communication on protecting children in migration is the establishment of an EU guardianship network. It’s expected to be established early 2018 and efforts will be made to connect ProGuard to this development.

Project objectives
ProGuard is based on the following assumptions, derived from general research and practical experience of the project partners:

  • there is a lot of knowledge and expertise available but there is no systematic way in which insights and best practices are shared; many organisations fend for themselves and guardians do not yet have easy and structured access to information, methodologies and best practices;
  • protecting and implementing child rights for unaccompanied children in Europe requires professional guardianship organisations with specialised knowledge and networks.

The development of a toolkit on the European level is a logical next step: the work is largely the same in each country and economics of scale can be applied.

Two foundational activities include (1) making available a set of regional training resources for guardians to ensure a child-centred and child-rights based approach, through States identifying and systematically sharing best practices and (2) building a European certification system which will help national systems both continuously improve in terms of quality and sustainability and better forge cross border coordination where cases are of concern to more than one country.

Consequently, ProGuard will focus on the following two levels:

  • on the level of daily practice, ProGuard will review services provided and identify how to encourage the use of existing training and tools as well as the exchange of good practices. Ensuring a child-centred and child-rights based approach will be the main goal.
  • aim on policy level will be to ensure a closer involvement of child protection authorities and interagency and multidisciplinary cooperation, both at national and transnational level.

Member States/guardianship authorities will be involved in the work on the toolkit and the other deliverables and special attention will be given to involving international organisations, guardianship institutions and NGOs and encouraging implementation of suitable existing training and tools.

The project will enable Member States to further professionalise their work and the protection systems they are part of, thus further improving the outcome for the children in the system.

ProGuard will be carried out by Nidos (NL) and partners METAdrasi (EL), Danish Red Cross (DK), Jugendhilfe Süd-Niedersachsen (DE), Orphans court Latvia (LV), Amici dei Bambini (IT), Centre for missing and exploited children (HR), Child Circle (BE), National Institute for Health and Welfare (FI), Missing Children Europe and The Council of the Baltic Sea States.

At least one public authority from each participating country is involved in the project or expressed in writing its support to the application. These public authorities can be Ministries and/or agencies responsible for children (e.g. child protection agencies and services, national guardianship institutions, Ministries for children, child protection, education, health, social affairs, justice, children’s ombudspersons and/or national human rights institutes for children, responsible regional authorities, etc).

Please contact us if you are interested in participating in the project or would like to be kept informed of developments.

Contact details:
Liedewij de Ruijter de Wildt, Manager European projects Nidos
Mobile phone: +31 (0) 6 22194569, email: