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The social services sector in Europe is facing a growing need for care and support, as the demand for quality social services is constantly increasing. EU funds offer opportunities to fund social services, but accessing and managing these funds can be challenging for many organisations. The European Social Network is one of 16 organisations taking part in the EU Helpdesk project to support social services to better access and use EU funds and to help Managing Authorities in understanding how they can better support social services access European funding.

In the project's initial phase, the consortium focused on gathering evidence on the way EU funds such as the European Social Fund (ESF)+ and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) are being accessed across the 27 Member States and looked into the support structures which are already in place at national and local level that could be leveraged by social services to gain access to EU Funds.

Now the partnership is fully concentrated on finding solutions to overcome the bureaucratic burdens during the application process and guiding Managing Authorities and social services on the kind of projects that can be funded, and that have the most social impact.

Drawing from this evidence, the consortium has identified five key factors that can improve the use of EU funds for social inclusion:

1.Adopt a needs-based approach

It is essential to start from the social needs and priorities of vulnerable groups to build European projects. Social services, key for addressing diverse needs of these groups, encounter challenges in effectively accessing EU funds. Key findings highlight addressing timely access to information, alignment of EU priorities with service providers' needs, clear project calls, overcoming submission barriers, and ensuring post-funding sustainability. These areas require attention for a more effective use of EU funds in social services.

The Helpdesk project started with an evidence-gathering phase, including a survey to get input from social services and Managing Authorities on how they perceive the use of EU Funds for social services and what the barriers are in the 27 Member States. Find out more at here.

2. Make EU funds understandable and social friendly

Recognising the need for EU funds to be understandable and accessible for social services, the Helpdesk has developed a user-friendly website to simplify and adapt EU funds for social services. Discover how the European funds are structured in each Member State and their aims, strategic objectives and open calls in the Helpdesk’s knowledge map. Still have questions about EU funding opportunities in your country? Ask the Helpdesk for help!

3. From beneficiaries to practitioners

The lack of training in European funds is one of the internal challenges that social services face in accessing and using these funds. The Helpdesk project is currently developing a massive open online course (MOOC) and a booklet of promising practices, as well as organising several trainings. Find out more about these online training opportunities here.

4. Making the most of EU funds

For social services, to be able to access and manage EU funds  can be a complex and demanding task. Therefore, the Helpdesk is developing facilitation tools that aim to simplify the process which will be available in January 2024.

5. Fostering collaboration

Cooperation between Managing Authorities, social services, and the European Commission is key to ensure that funding priorities align with social inclusion needs and evidence-based programmes. Therefore, technical guidance is being developed to explore solutions to maximise the social impact of ESF+ and ERDF funding social services.

For a deeper dive into these factors and to explore the wealth of resources and initiatives offered by the Helpdesk project, visit the website.