22nd European Social Services Conference – roundtable debate


The final round table debate at the 22nd European Social Services Conference brought for discussion a timely topic – ‘an agenda for reform and investment for the next 10 years’. Prompted by the key messages and ideas discussed during the first two days of the conference, the panellists at the roundtable chaired by Hugh Frazer from the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, looked at how issues for and expertise of social services could be put at the heart of the review of the Europe 2020 Strategy and how public social services could contribute to the development of a social investment approach in line with the Social Investment Package (SIP).

The Europe 2020 Strategy and the SIP

The Europe 2020 Strategy, launched in 2010 against the background of an unprecedented economic and social crisis, sets out a vision for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth for Europe based on five headline targets (employment, R&D/innovation, climate change, education and poverty and social exclusion). The Strategy was conceived as a partnership between the European Commission and national governments. However, its success also depends on the involvement of local and regional authorities. In February 2013 the Commission published the Social Investment Package (SIP) to guide Member States in using their social budgets more efficiently and effectively to ensure adequate and sustainable social protection.

The European Commission has recently launched a mid-term review of the Europe 2020 Strategy. For the European Social Network (ESN), a key issue of this process will be to look at how the European Commission’s SIP could be better integrated into the Europe 2020 Strategy, how a social investment approach could help ensure that the social dimension of the Strategy becomes stronger and local social services see progress towards achieving the EU 2020 targets.

Key messages

Asked whether the Commission’s recommendations on social investment are taken on board by national governments, Thomas Dominique, the Chair of the Social Protection Committee, argued that there was a need to have European social values translated to national level. In order to do so, Mr. Dominique suggested that “national governments should do ex ante assessments when taking financial decisions to assess the social impact of such decisions and to ensure a larger focus on social issues when the Europe 2020 review takes place, for which the input of public social services is essential.”

Looking at the challenges faced by public social services to adopt a social investment approach, Marie Paule Martin Blachais, General Director of the French Observatory of Children at Risk, an ESN member, highlighted the relevance of good data in decision-making, drawing on her expertise in integrated child protection systems. “When public authorities take care of a child, it is key to have an integrated approach both at local and national levels. We have tried to do so in France with the development of local child protection observatories to collect data across the country to enable us to cross-compare and come up with policies that respond better to the needs of users and professionals.”

Tracey Wareing, Executive Director at the American Public Human Services Association, referred to the relevance of this debate for the United States. Ms Wary spoke of investing in ‘what works’ as the key for transformation: “There is a need to reinforce the evaluation cycle, not only through costly longitudinal studies, but also with other types of small adjustments in services delivery and by combining what behavioural science tells us that works with technology, to help us provide the right services to the right people at the right time.”

John Halloran, ESN’s Chief Executive, highlighted that whilst many in public social services acknowledge the need to promote a social investment approach, local public authorities are being forced to reduce many of these services as a consequence of budgetary cuts. “There needs to be a space for the local and regional levels to be heard at EU level, so that this gap can be bridged”, he argued.

The European Social Network (ESN) will contribute to the mid-term review of the Europe 2020 Strategy in order to bring forward the expertise of local public social services and will draw, among other sources, on discussions at the 22nd European Social Services Conference in doing so.

More resources from the 22nd European Social Services Conference