Over 513,000 children in Belgium live in poverty. This is the equivalent of just over 20 percent of all the children and a figure that Stichting Pelicano wants to change as quickly as possible. Since 2008, the foundation has been supporting children financially to give them the same opportunities as children who do not grow up in poverty.
Stichting Pelicano (The Pelicano Foundation) was established at the initiative of the then Queen Paola. “There were many organizations dedicated to helping children, but none provided long-term support. The help they offered was often short-term. Stichting Pelicano focuses on the future. On average, we support children for 15 to 20 years, until they enter the job market,” explains Kristof De Boever, Head of Corporate Partnerships for Stichting Pelicano.
Children living in poverty can encounter Stichting Pelicano through different channels, the largest of which are schools. From the time that children are of school age, they spend the majority of their day at school and if something is not right, a teacher can notice. Possible indicators of poverty are wearing maladjusted clothing for the season, not bringing lunch, being underweight, and having poor personal hygiene or grooming. Other children are referred to the foundation by day care facilities run by the Public Centre for Social Welfare (OCMW). Childcare workers that are employed there notice the same issues as teachers. The third way is through private individuals, such as a neighbour who sees that things are not going well and wants to help.
If poverty is suspected, the school, Public Centre for Social Welfare, or private individual can report this to Stichting Pelicano, which will then undertake an investigation and contact the parents. Important conditions before a child will officially be taken in as a Pelicano-child, include that the living condition is in a situation of extreme poverty, that they have a future in the job market, and that the parents fully support them.
When a child becomes a ‘Pelicano-child’, a care partner will be assigned to him or her. This person is usually a remedial teacher from the school who volunteers to look after the child. “Important to keep in mind is that the foundation does not remove children from families,” says De Boever. “That is not what we do. We offer children purely financial support. Of course, some of these children may already be in foster care, but the decision to ‘send’ children into a foster home is not ours to make.”
Stichting Pelicano expects these care partners to keep a watchful eye on the child to ensure the same opportunities for the child as for other children in the class or age group. This is done by making financial resources available. Stichting Pelicano opens a bank account for each care partner that is dedicated to the child’s use. The basic amount made available each year by the organization is used by the care partner to make purchases deemed necessary for the child. “The types of purchases made are entirely up to the care partner. These can be purely financial or, for example, to take the child on an outing on a Wednesday afternoon. Sometimes, when a child is around 16, the care partner may start giving the child an allowance, so that he or she can occasionally do something fun with friends after school,” explains De Boever. “We entrust our care partners with this funding and the purchases they make, but of course, require that they provide an invoice or receipt.”
“Thanks to our approach we’ve already been able to help around 3.000 children so far in appalling poverty. Every year, we provide a basic amount of 1.500 euros for children up to the age of 12 and 2.000 euros for children aged 12 and up. This amount can be increased at the request of the care partner, such as if the child wants to study in higher education.”
A study by the Vlerick Business School in 2020 shows that a child costs an average of 40.000 euros throughout the entire course of action. But this cost is offset by the fact that investing in a child’s upbringing ultimately generates 200.000 to 360.000 euros in the labour market. “These are important numbers because the child will not have to apply for unemployment benefits or request a living wage but can actively contribute to the economy and society by paying taxes and social contributions. In this way, there is no cost to society and everyone benefits,” says De Boever.
To obtain enough funding for all Pelicano-children, the foundation relies on donations and gifts from private persons, and they organize activities on a regular basis, sometimes in partnership with companies that benefit the foundation. De Boever mentions as an example a paddle tennis tournament, by which a percentage of registration fees are donated to Pelicano. “We’ve already organized various types of activities, from sporting events to business-related gatherings. The sky’s the limit when it comes to ideas to raise money. Every initiative to raise money is welcome and a tremendous help to us.”
Do you wish as a company, together with Stichting Pelicano, to solve child poverty in Belgium? Reach out to Kristof via email@example.com or 0475/87 23 90.