The 2016 annual conference of the Polish Society of Social Policy was organised by ESN member Janusz Korczack Pedagogic University in Warsaw on 13-15 June. Representatives from ESN members Divosa from the Netherlands, Generalitat of Catalonia and Mazovia’s Centre for Social Policy also participated at the event. The conference brought together representatives from academia and public authorities working specifically on social policy. The agenda focused on key issues for social policy at national and international level, such as the implementation of evidence-based social policy, the development of social entrepreneurship, working in partnership across sectors and Social services decentralisation.
Opening the conference, Mirek Grewinski, Vice-Rector of Janusz Korczack Pedagogic University, provided a backdrop for discussion highlighting the evolution of social policy in Poland over the last 25 years. Milou Haggenbourg, from Divosa (the Association of Directors for Employment and Social Services in the Netherlands), then gave an overview of the first year of implementation of the new Social Care and Participation Acts which have decentralised all social services to the municipalities. Ms Haggenbourg led a discussion on the role of the social community teams, which have been emerging across municipalities to provide an integrated response to social problems. Continuing the theme of integration, Ester Sarquella, from the regional government of Catalonia, later presented the integrated plan for health and social care led by Catalonia and piloted across several municipalities initially for people with chronic conditions.
In my presentation, I spoke of a change of paradigm in social services which had traditionally been associated with beneficence and rapid responses to urgent situations, such as the implementation of a specific right (e.g. an economic allowance or the provision of shelter for the homeless). Today, in a context of increasing inequality and financial constraints, there is a need for social services to move towards prevention in the understanding that social policy is an investment and new forms of working across sectors are necessary to promote social inclusion.
As social services move towards being considered on an equal level with education and health, it is increasingly necessary to focus on measuring not just outputs but also outcomes in terms of improving people’s wellbeing and their quality of life. To be able to do this, implementing a multi-agency approach is crucial as we documented in our report on integrated social services, which highlights examples of integrated approaches across Europe.
Building on the 25 years of social policy discussed at the beginning of the conference, it is clear to me that there is a need to underline the importance of social services to ensure that they are on an equal level with other key sectors like education and health. Central to this is to develop partnerships and foster an integrated approach which places the person at the centre of service delivery and secures best possible outcomes.