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On 1 April, representatives of public social services and those working in the social sector will come together in Brussels for the third edition of the European Social Services Awards.  Postponed from December because of Covid-19 restrictions, this will be the first live ceremony since 2019, bringing together representatives of the 28 projects nominated for Social Services innovation, collaborative practice, outstanding team, technology and research in social services. 

The pandemic has brought to light the essential role social services play in improving people’s lives as well as the urgent need to build more resilient services and communities.  On Friday, we will celebrate and honour the effort of public social services in developing innovative practices and programmes which not only have responded to immediate needs but have also been looking ahead towards building resilient services and communities that are better prepared for future crises.

A wide variety of projects have been nominated, representing the diverse nature of the sector and the range of needs to which it must respond. They include housing projects, projects to enable elderly people to remain in their own homes, projects to support young people leaving institutional care or projects to ensure that disabled or other socially excluded people can live independently, access healthcare and are supported into employment. Other projects focus on supporting the professional development of social services staff, or finding new ways to work collaboratively across other support services which put the user at the centre. A full list of the nominated projects can be found here.

The common thread running through all the 2021 finalists is resilience – recognising the central role of public social services in responding to the pandemic and the post-Covid-19 recovery; and highlighting the need to strengthen public social services to improve their preparedness for future crises.  The theme is more pertinent than ever as social services across Europe, barely emerging from the pandemic, have been called into action once again to respond to the humanitarian crisis as millions of Ukrainians flee the invasion of their country.

Whether it has been supporting the most vulnerable at increased risk of poverty, unemployment, domestic abuse, homelessness or isolation in their local communities; or finding accommodation, school places and mental health support for the women and children fleeing Ukraine, public social services are the safety-net providing a lifeline to those in need.  While some challenges emerged as a direct consequence of Covid-19, others related to social needs that have not been adequately met for many years, such as the lack of adequate housing and quality long-term care. In many European countries, years of under-investment before the pandemic meant that the social services sector struggled to meet the growing demand for support while ensuring the quality, accessibility, and continuity of services.

This Friday, the closely guarded secret of the winners of each of the 5 categories will be revealed – as well as the winner of the Social Services Excellence Award which will be selected by all the event participants in a special vote during the afternoon’s proceedings.  Unable to join in person? follow ESN on twitter at @ESNSocial for live updates throughout the afternoon as the winner of each award category is announced – find the programme here.