Public social services, at the front line of the economic and Covid-19 crisis and now the war in Ukraine, have begun to focus on building resilience to prepare for future crises. To ensure these efforts have a real and sustainable impact, the European Social Network (ESN) supports our members through practice exchange and sharing expert knowledge to identify examples of programmes that have worked to make social services better prepared for different crises.

On 4 and 5 July, ESN held the first meeting of its Working Group on social services transformation and resilience, which aims to increase the knowledge and capacity of public authorities to plan and manage services in a resilient manner and promote effective crisis management. The meeting, hosted by ESN member Madrid City Council, brought together social services professionals and leaders from nineteen countries across Europe.

Gaining knowledge for resilient change

Based on her vast experience bringing about social change worldwide, Cornelia C. Walther, creator of Poze Global Network provided an understanding of how social services can become resilient and recover more quickly from external shocks.

According to Ms Walther, the route to resilience lies in “putting the human experience at the centre of all the work of social services.” In practice, for example, this translates into looking at “solutions in an integrated manner because humans themselves are also multi-dimensional.”

Sharing practice

During the working group, members also shared examples of how their organisations have transformed the ways they work, developing integrated care approaches in response to the Covid-19 crisis and, more recently, supporting refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine.

Hannah Gill, Senior Advisor at the Local Government Association in England and Aurélie Picot, Senior Advisor at the French National Observatory for Child Protection, described how their respective countries utilised the demand for quick solutions during the Covid-19 crisis as an opportunity to simplify administrative processes as well as ease legal requirements.

In England, the 2020 Coronavirus Act empowered local authorities to make decisions in areas such as care planning and reviews, financial assessments and hospital discharges to provide flexibility in their responding to emerging needs from the pandemic. In France, simplifications in the juridical and administrative framework for child protection services made it possible to create temporary solutions to adapt to new situations and meet their core duties of care, for example, children newly taken into care, Covid positive children and respite care.

Christian Fillet, Social Director in Bruges, and Anamaria Varga, Senior Advisor at Arad Social Care Directorate, presented examples of centralised support centres for Ukrainian refugees in Bruges, Belgium and Arad, Romania, respectively. These centres brought all the relevant public authorities and professionals together in one place to address medical, cultural, educational and legal needs at the same time.

How the EU supports resilience in social services

ESN plays an important role in connecting local social services with European policy developments. Elisa Gómez Alemán, Policy Officer for the Directorate-General for Structural Reform Support at the European Commission, presented a technical support programme to support Member States in designing and applying institutional, administrative and structural reforms related to the European Pillar of Social Rights in social services. “Without including the local level, reform will not be sustainable,” she explained; therefore, part of the support involves stakeholder meetings with local services and ensuring their perspective has been included in the needs analysis of the proposed reforms.

What next?

The meeting participants were unified in thinking that social services need to be better prepared for future crises and discussed how this Working Group could support them in achieving this aim. At the same time, participants noted the importance of highlighting social services’ positive impact and the platform the Group could provide to share these success stories. These discussions and key learnings will be reflected in a policy briefing published later this year.