Tackling child poverty has been high on the Norwegian political agenda for over a decade.
This was illustrated by a Peer Review held in Oslo on 13-14 November 2012 in the framework of the PROGRESS programme. The Peer Review attracted representatives from six Member States (Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece and Romania), from two European stakeholder organisations (EAPN and Eurocities), as well as Norwegian experts and officials.
Although Norway is one of Europe’s wealthiest countries, child poverty rates are rising, largely among children with migrant backgrounds. The Peer Review focused on the Groruddalen action plan, a unique example of how the Norwegian government and the city of Oslo have joined forces to improve the overall living conditions in a highly vulnerable area with relatively low levels of employment, a large proportion of immigrants and health problems. Launched in 2007, the action plan is the first of its kind in Norway and will run until 2016. Jointly financed from national and municipal funds, it consists of four distinct, but mutually supportive, programmes. The fourth, with its focus on children, youth, schools, living conditions and inclusion was the subject of the Peer Review.
Among the many initiatives, opportunities are offered for children to develop their knowledge of Norwegian and general social skills. A visit to a local kindergarten demonstrated the practical methods, including storytelling and special activities, used to develop linguistic skills among four and five year olds from very varied ethnic backgrounds. Another visit was made to the Nysirkus Bjerke, a circus which develops artistic and gymnastic skills for children and young people between 6and 20.
Overall, the Groruddalen action plan provides a clear example of the benefits of combining a universal approach with a targeted one, as well as of the need for effective collaboration between the main partners (central and local government, various associations, NGOs and local residents). Other factors contributing to a programme’s success were also identified, which include enthusiasm among the people involved, staff continuity, a strong sense of local ownership and involvement, imaginative and practical ways of contacting potential beneficiaries who may be hard to reach.
The issue of how initiatives can be continued once initial funding dries up was also addressed. Participants highlighted the importance of embedding initiatives in legislation or wider existing programmes, providing evidence of identifiable benefits, as well as preparing existing structures to embrace innovation.
Not being in the European Union, Norway does not participate in the EU 2020 strategy but it has similar goals and the policies it is implementing in the action plan have a direct relevance to many of the strategy’s aims. In addition, the various initiatives provide valuable lessons for the recommendation on child poverty the European Commission plans to table in early 2013.
More information can be found here: Area-based policies in urban areas: how to promote good living conditions for children and youth.