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On 16 November 150 delegates from across Europe, including representatives of the 44 shortlisted projects, met in Zagreb (Croatia) to discover the winners of the 5th edition of the European Social Services Awards (ESSA). The evening ceremony was followed by a networking session between shortlisted and winners the next day.  ESN received 120 strong applications for this year’s Awards edition under the theme: ‘Promoting Person-centred Care’.

“Person-centred social care systems ensure people receive information they need in the best, most accessible way, are empowered to make decisions about their own care, and are supported as individuals,” said Jane Dudman, freelance journalist, one of the event co-hosts together with Alfonso Lara-Montero, Chief Executive Officer of the European Social Network (ESN).

People as the main driving force

“Let cooperation be our guiding value,” underlined Tomislav Tomašević, Mayor of Zagreb, in his welcome words opening the ceremony and congratulating all shortlisted projects.

Lora Vidović, Head of Social Protection in Zagreb city council, also emphasised the values of solidarity and collaboration as well as the importance of ensuring that those in need of social services are the main driving force in designing and implementing the services they need. “As a city, we need to walk hand-in-hand with the people that social services are for” said Ms Vidović.

Tomasz Pactwa, Director of Welfare in Warsaw city council described how the city’s social services have been supporting Ukrainian refugees to be included in the local communities, with 35% now in secured employment.

Actions to support the workforce

Person-centred care goes beyond traditional, one-size-fits-all approaches and emphasises the unique needs, preferences, and aspirations of the people social services support. Elena KochoskaBoard Member of the European Network on Independent Living, stressed the need for all social services education curricula to reflect a clear human rights approach that puts people’s needs at the core of social service.

Frontline workers can also be supported with training tools. Linda Weir, Programme Manager at the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) in Ireland, explained how they support staff to help people using services advocate for themselves with an online course on the fundamentals of advocacy in health and social care.

Meet the 2023 ESSA winners

Six winners were announced and celebrated in Zagreb this year, along with all other shortlisted projects. In 2024, the Awards Ceremony will take place in Lisbon.

Service Delivery

Coffee and Community: Tackling Rural Isolation - Rural Coffee Caravan, United Kingdom

Workforce Support

PYCIPEDIA: Knowledge Sharing Platform to Connect Specialist Social Workers - Linköping Municipality R&D Centre, Sweden; IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Collaborative Practice

The Sharing Factory - Public Centre for Social Welfare, Kortrijk, Belgium

Research & Evaluation

Through the Eyes of the Child - The Child and Family Agency (Tusla); Trinity College Dublin, Ireland

Digital Transformation

Automating Social Protection for Internally Displaced Persons in Ukraine - Ministry of Social Policy, Ministry of Digital Transformation, Medirent, Ukraine

Excellence in Cities Award

Social Atelier - City of Osijek, Croatia

Read more detailed summaries about the winners and all shortlisted on the ESSA website. To connect with any project, contact us at

Continuing the work towards person-centred care

Enhancing personal approaches and co-creation in social services, accompanied by supportive workforce reforms is crucial for expanding the reach and accessibility of community-based social services. The messages brought forward at this year’s Awards Ceremony are also at the heart of the next European Social Services Conference (ESSC) which will take place in Antwerp, Belgium, between 26-28 June 2024, on the theme of Co-creating Future Social Services.

Over 3 days, social services professionals, third sector organisations, providers of technology solutions, and researchers will share and exchange their knowledge and experiences with peers from across Europe and other regions of the world. Register until 31 December to benefit from 10% reduction on the conference fee.