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21st European Social Services Conference: Workshops

One of the recurrent themes at this year’s European Social Services Conference has been investing in people; as the President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins emphasised in his opening speech, we need to acknowledge “economic and social development as being inextricably linked… and shift the debate towards investing in our most valuable resources - our people." Social investment in the most vulnerable in our societies also means seeing clients as ‘co-producers’ of services, involving people in the assessment of their own needs and looking at shared solutions. In John Halloran’s words, it is about “seeing ability rather than disability” or, as Cormac Russell pointed, about moving from what is wrong to what is strong and focusing on the assets and strengths of the people in the community. A number of workshops looked at how services and local communities can work together with people with disabilities to ensure their wellbeing.

The Association of Directors of Social Services Cymru in Wales (UK) presented their multi-agency project which aims to safeguard the rights of people with disabilities, improving prevention and reporting of abuse by pooling knowledge and resources of the social, police and justice services in the local community. The project has led to the creation of a disability harassment taskforce which now gives regular risk assessment conferences to educate police and public protections forces throughout Wales. Workshop participants discussed the different spaces for abuse and the need to raise awareness of discrimination in both the public and domestic arena (for instance, in families where service users are simply seen as additional income), as well as the need to equip service users with rights so that they feel empowered to report cases of abuse against themselves. 

The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services and the Care Quality Commission in the UK proposed a discussion on how to protect vulnerable adults and achieve a whole-system approach. The starting point for the debate has been the incident at Winterbourne View, a private NHS hospital in England, where people with complex needs were systematically abused by their carers; this led to a series of investigations and case reviews, as well as the creation of a stakeholder forum which also included people with learning disabilities and family carers. The presenters shared some of the lessons learned surrounding the need to develop personalised, rather than institutionalised services, and to work together with services users – in Alan Rosenbach’s words, “developing community care and the voice of people with learning disabilities and family carers must be at the heart of all we do.” 

The Public Health and Quality Improvement (CFK) and the Central Denmark Region presented a project piloted in five municipalities in Denmark, which builds bridges between health care professionals, social services and people with learning disabilities with the aim of improving health care thinking in the community. The project has promoted the development of partnerships between service users and social workers trained together to be health guides for people with intellectual disabilities in their community. It has also led to the creation of a simple voluntary health test by service users and health professionals working together to ensure health issues are discussed. In the discussion on how to balance service users’ autonomy and the need to ensure that they maintain a healthy lifestyle, participants highlighted the importance of social workers, especially health guides, being good role models for service users. 

The Andalusian Health Service from the Regional Ministry of Health and Social Welfare of Andalucía in Spain presented GRUSE, a socio-educational group activity for mental health promotion and prevention, developed by social workers in primary care and targeting the population groups identified as most vulnerable, in the first phase women who attend health centres and need support to face everyday life. With 80% of the participants finishing the programme (which consists of attend 8 to 10 sessions with social care workers and mental health professionals), GRUSE proved to be very successful in helping to reduce anxiety and depression symptoms in patients, as well as reduce the number of visits to GPs. Workshop participants discussed mainstreaming the programme in the national health system, identifying difficulties such as the stigma faced by users themselves that may prevent them from going to primary care in the first place, and the need for social directors to move away from a professional-led model to that of co-production alongside users. Opportunities were also identified, including proof of sustained impact which is essential to guarantee a change of vision. 

As part of its work on mental health, ESN joined the Joint Action for Mental Health and Wellbeing together with 45 partners and 27 Member States.