Integration as a motor for better social services

The social difficulties of families in poverty, young care leavers and people in long-term care are often complex, requiring coordinated support from a range of services. Unfortunately, their responses can be fragmented, failing to take into account the full picture and how problems are interlinked. In its newest Report “Integrated Care and Support - Promoting Partnerships across Services, Improving Lives,” the European Social Network (ESN) showcases how social services can develop truly integrated ways of working.

A joint vision to win ‘hearts and minds’

Integrated care is about breaking down silos between different agencies, services and professions to better fulfil the needs of service users. But where to start implementation? A joint vision shared by all entities involved is crucial, as the report states. Jimena Pascual Fernández from the Regional Ministry of Social Rights and Welfare Asturias in Spain, a member of the ESN working group that provided input for the report, puts it as follows: “You need to start from the consensus around the integrated care model: sharing values that guide care, the model to be implemented and how to design integrated care services.”

Effective local management and leadership

The report found that a good leader and manager is needed to coordinate organisations and ensure agreements at a higher level. Working group member Janusz Korczak from the Pedagogical University Warsaw in Poland explained that “In the absence of systemic solutions, local leaders are most important for developing integrated support.” Indeed, national health and social care policies across Europe are still siloed for example due to separate funding streams and inflexible government funding arrangements, so that integration often depends on local arrangements. Only UK, Spain and Malta indicated funds for integration coming from pooled funding of agencies sharing their budgets.

Connecting the boundaries of different services

New roles, such as care co-ordinators, can facilitate integration of different services. For instance, Vilnius in Lithuania has developed the role of a social care coordinator, which ensures service quality and coordinated service delivery in health and social services. Another facilitator of integration is the set-up of multi-disciplinary teams and networks. The family centre model in Finland for example creates networks for child and family services so that professionals respond together to the needs of families in need, rather than making them seek out each service separately.

Involving the users to close the gaps

People using services can often help to identify gaps between different services and programmes. Involving them at strategic and service planning levels through methodologies such as in the co-design and production should become a key element of services integration. Policymakers should consider making this involvement mandatory. More findings, best practices and recommendations for researchers, policymakers and practitioners can be found in the report.