19th European Social Services Conference

In Warsaw, delegates participated in 23 workshops, meeting colleagues and sharing experiences and good practice, but also questioning and debating current practice and identifying opportunities for improvement. Below we give you a flavour of the workshop discussions.

Developing health policies for young people: children's rights, perspectives and participation

Department of Health and Social Inclusion, Regional Government of Andalucia, Spain

In this workshop Isabel Escalona Labella and Antonio GarridoPorras opened the discussion about children’s participation/point of view in the development of policies affecting them. They presented lessons learned from the first Forum on ‘Bringing children’s voices into health policies’, organised by Andalucían Ministry of Health held in Seville on 11 December 2010. Out of 100 participants in this Forum, 60 were children aged 9-17. Together with health and childcare experts they submitted their proposals to the policy makers in the Regional government of Andalucía.

“It is going to take a lot to change the culture. It is similar to what happened with women. Positioning ourselves in the society as equals has been hard, but once done the societies have become richer and better for all,” said Rosefa Ruiz, Secretary General of Public Health and Participation, Ministry of Health in a film shown at the workshop.

> What delegates took home:

Health policies for young people can be improved by:

  • creating channels of participation for children, e.g. Children’s Forums
  • creating changes in the health culture
  • breaking the culture of the child as a beneficiary of services
  • working in partnership, e.g. with Ombudsman, local networks, UNICEF, Save the Children
  • training professionals working in social services for children
  • sharing information specifically designed for children

“Boys and girls should educate adults because democracy starts with/in childhood”

Establishing effective cooperation in international cases concerning child protection and family conflicts

International Social Service (ISS), Germany
Regional Committee for Protection of Child Rights, Poznán, Poland

The workshop presented by Gabriele Scholz and Georg Stahl looked at the difficulties that can arise in international cases of child protection and family conflicts. The importance of having central authorities and a more structured bureaucracy at the international level in the form of the UN Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and the Convention on Child Support and Family Maintenance were highlighted as a major developments, which have helped the work of NGOs, such as the International Social Services (ISS).

Despite an increasing number of international agreements and conventions some difficulties still remain:

  • one State concerned is not party to an international convention or agreement
  • cooperation does not lead to a (satisfactory) result
  • different legal systems and concepts in the countries concerned (i.e parental responsibility)
  • question of validity of a Court decision from a foreign Court
  • delays (due to translations, bureaucratic processes, etc.)
  • nationality and immigration status of family members
  • cultural concepts of family (for example significant adults, single-parent families, etc.)
  • difficulties in communicating with authorities abroad

> What delegates took home:

There are some advantages of NGOs like ISS doing international social work in this way:

  • low threshold access – easier access to services
  • certain degree of flexibility in carrying out work
  • free choice of working partners in other countries
  • universal accessibility
  • not limited to referrals by courts
  • social work embedded in legal frame aimed to enable parties to find a solution

“It is a good sign that answering and solving these scenarios seems difficult, as it proves that social services are needed.”

Raising standards in social services workforce

Scottish Social Services Councils, UK

This workshop, presented by Neil Macleod and Michael Docherty, looked at the social services workforce, its regulation, skills and qualifications, but also at what support the workforce needs to perform well. The social services workforce in Scotland has grown rapidly in recent years, now employing approximately 200,000 workers. When compared with the National Health Service (NHS) in Scotland, which employs around 160,000 workers, this is a sizeable increase.

Out of the 200,000 workers in the sector, around 44,000 are registered with the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC), whose responsibility it is to register the workforce, regulate social work education, produce workforce data and codes of practice for workers and employers. Its sister organisation, On the other hand Social Care and Social Work Improvement Scotland, based in the same city, regulates provider organisations. The SSSC has developed a series of resources on workforce data, professional development and workforce planning.

> What delegates took home:

Skill needs identified by workforce include:

  • Soft skills, literacy and numeracy
  • Risk Assessment
  • Moving and handling skills
  • Skills to support people with dementia

See full list of sector skills assessment and resources.

“The world is changing very fast, you need to adapt to new realities.”

Nothing about us without us’: promoting the fundamental rights of people with intellectual disabilities or mental health problems

European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA)

Presented by KasiaJurczak, Oliver Lewis and Jasna Russo, this workshop highlighted the stigma and social exclusion still faced by persons with intellectual disabilities and those with mental health problems despite the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities The FRA’s disability project collected views of these individuals on key aspects of their lives through in-depth interviews on independent living, participation and social inclusion, with the active participation of user-researchers and self-advocates. Conducted in nine member states, it is the first European project of its scale to draw directly on the experience and expertise of service users to build the evidence about the impact of the UN Convention in promoting the rights-based approach to disability.

The workshop presenters showed a few quotes from people with disabilities in Europe. Most participants reacted to a voice from a Bulgarian user:

“The ladies (social workers) know the things you ask me about my personal documents. They are in charge for this….I do not know whether we will go again on a trip to the seaside. Maybe if the ladies decide we will go…the ladies tell us when there are concerts in the city and sometimes they bring us there…”

This brought the audience to the discussion on deinstitutionalisation, involvement (or the lack of it) of users in the design and delivery of their care.

A service user on participation: “When things are put up for discussion there is nothing to say... everything was discussed in offices and committees already.”

Integrating Mental Health Care in the Community: Challenges and developments in the city of Antwerp

Social Services Department of the City of Antwerp and ZNA Psychiatric Hospital Stuivenberg

Workshop presenters GieGoyvaerts, Vicky Matthysen and HerwigUytterlinde explained that ZNA Psychiatric Hospital Stuivenberg is the only one in a city of half a million inhabitants, though there are wards in three general hospitals. In addition, there are 21 Community Social Services Centres and 2 Community Mental Health Centres. These services, run by the municipal social services, work in close cooperation with the hospital and implement together a number of outreach, befriending and awareness-raising projects.

This presentation of the mental health services in Antwerp opened up a lively discussion with the audience. Belgian delegates expressed their doubts about the sustainability of this approach (funded in 25% by the Flemish Community and 75% by the Federal Ministry of Health).

Other delegates questioned the reliance on hospital rather than community care in the city. Jan Pfeiffer, the Chair of the European Deinstitutionalisation Expert Group and moderator of the plenary session on community care development drew attention to Italian experiences where the long-term cost effectiveness of deinstitutionalisation proved to be in the region of 50%. Flemish delegates pointed to a Federal Law on Hospitals which foresees the transfer of funds from acute to community-based services.

> What delegates took home:

  • Society’s problematic attitude to mental health, the ‘not in my back yard’ attitude is common in all countries
  • There is a need for more awareness raising projects and it could be done by:

“Knowledge about mental health is still low and this ignorance generates fear among people”

A good life for elderly people: innovative approaches to a future-oriented policy for senior citizens

Observatory for Sociopolitical Developments in Europe, Germany
Project “Zukunft Alter” (Future Age), Municipality of Arnsberg, Germany

Presented by Sabrina Stula, Martin Polenz and Annette Angermann, the workshop presented a project in Arnsberg where they asked the city’s older people what they want and need. Results led to various projects around dementia, person-to-person support and learning.

> What delegates took home:

Asked to identify success factors in special projects for ageing in their experience, delegates identified:

  • Participation of older people and user’s perspective
  • Multi agency approach
  • A central motor to drive projects forward
  • Shared vision and a positive approach
  • Adequate resources

AnniKünkenrenken, a volunteer who arranges a games afternoon at a care home for people with dementia in Arnsberg, says in a film made for German TV: “We get such a warm welcome when we come here: the joy that we bring to the people, they give back to us, so we’re always happy to come here.”

Download all workshop presentations