Professionalisation of guardianship in Europe
(REC rights of the child funded project starting end 2017)

Guardianship for unaccompanied children has developed significantly in the last decade. In 2009 Nidos initiated a European network of Guardianship Institutions (ENGI) through the ERF community actions-project ENGI. While the project was succeeded by a second phase focusing on the more operational level, it turned out that guardianship for unaccompanied children was still in its infancy on the European as well as on most national levels. This was and is mainly caused by the substantial differences between existing national systems: variations in local, national and regional responsibilities, differences in staff on a scale from volunteer to professional, but also the position of the organisation(s) in national structures.

There (still) is much room for qualitative improvement. At the same time, cooperation has 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 that context, the platform for exchange that ENGI was set up to be, was therefore never fully transformed into a formal European Network, with members from most EU Member States, stimulating the development of guardianship and representing its interests at the European level.

In the last few years, guardianship has made a 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.

Reflecting on the situation in 2009, many countries have developed their guardianship systems since then, creating a firmer basis for cooperation, exchange and development. The increased number of unaccompanied children applying for protection in Europe created an even bigger sense of urgency in working towards specialised and professionalised guardianship organisations; preferably centralised and with the appropriate mandate. In short, the time is ripe for the next step to develop the European Network of Guardianship Institutions.

In order to support this development of guardianship organisations there is a need in Member States for identifying and systematically sharing best practises but also for training of staff to ensure a child-centred and child-rights based approach. Working towards certification of guardianship institutions will help support the transition both in quality and in sustainability.

Project objectives
ProGuard starts with the following assumptions, concluded from general rights and provisions, research and practical experience of the project partners:

  • protecting and implementing child rights for unaccompanied children in Europe requires professional guardianship organisations with specialised knowledge and networks;
  • 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 should have easy and structured access to information, methodologies and best practices;
  • 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. Furthermore, it will support the aforementioned desired development;
  • working towards common standards to define professional guardianship organisations will be a big help in working towards quality and sustainable guardianship.

ProGuard will focus on the following two levels:

  • On the level of daily practice the main activities will be reviewing services provided, investigating possible use of existing training and tools and 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 provide guardians working with unaccompanied children as well as policy makers and governments with a practical toolkit on professional guardianship including a train-the-trainer methodology. It will be supported by a recommendation report on the current state of the art and how to further develop guardianship for unaccompanied children in Europe in general and in the countries of the project partners specifically (namely NL, EL, DK, DE, LV, IT, HR, BE and FI), amongst others by using the FRA handbook in daily practice and rolling out and delivering previously tried and tested training modules and tools in a structured way, both to be used in practice and for further developing policies.

On top of that, a pilot on accreditation of guardianship institutions will be developed, based on the experiences within ENGI. The first step in accreditation is the start of a quality system that can serve well for further growth in the professionalisation and specialisation of guardianship, thus 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, project manager Nidos
Mobile phone: +31 (0) 6 22194569, email: