As ESN members recently discussed, social services organisations across Europe share a common challenge – recruiting and sustaining their workforce to meet rising demand. The effects of societal, structural and technological developments on the social services workforce are already apparent and will continue to have an incremental impact in coming years. In Europe, a rising demand for care, support and protection services is being driven, among others, by growing inequality, the social consequences of crises such as Covid-19 and the invasion of Ukraine as well as new expectations and demographic changes. At the same time, technological innovations carry huge potential to enable social services practitioners use their time more effectively and open opportunities for people using services to self-manage their own support.
The challenges facing the workforce are considerable. Throughout the years, ESN’s work has covered the challenges faced by the professionals working on child protection, disability, older people and adults at risk of social exclusion. ESN members anticipate that whilst demand will rise, the number of workers will not. Therefore, recruiting the right people is crucial, but the shortage of applicants often makes it a complex task. In addition, professionals working in social services are often regarded as undervalued, sometimes badly paid while the jobs they do are physically and mentally demanding.
ESN’s research ‘Investing in the Social Services Workforce,’ due to be updated later this year, discusses not only the opportunities for social services but also the challenges they are expected to face over the next decade with regards to retention, planning and management of the social services workforce. The research also takes into account the increasing focus on private providers, performance-related planning and the role EU policy plays in investment in social services and promoting the harmonisation of social services workforce qualifications across the EU to address recruitment gaps.
Within our current work, earlier this year, together with Eurodiaconia we called on the European Commission to invest in skills development in social care and social services, as part of a series of recommendations to make social services fit for the future, we will organise a roundtable at the European Parliament in November to discuss the evidence we have gathered on the challenges of labour shortages, and how developing, retaining, and attracting the right workforce are key success factors for the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. ESN is also part of the SISWEC project, which aims to improve professional university training in the field of social work.
At a recent Training School on Family Support Skills organised by COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) ESN Policy Manager Elona Bokshi recently reflected on the development of skills for family support workers, and how the different roles that local public services may have in regards to family and parenting support services affects their provision. She highlighted how the workforce behind those services -specialised social services in the field of child protection – in cooperation with other statutory services, such as health, education, and the police – should always undertake a multidisciplinary assessment of the family’s situation, parenting skills, their impact on the child and the potential threat to the child. For example, family and parenting support services are provided also through training parents on their resources and competences.
"Working for excellence - it is necessary to ensure the quality of services, and to do so, needs assessment, performance management and cost effectiveness should be considered. Addressing the shortage in the workforce and provide relevant training for all the professionals involved- it is a must," Elona Bokshi said.
The social services workforce features regularly in the work we do at ESN, particularly the relationship with people using services, technology and digital developments, education, training and development. Within this context, we have requested the European Commission to launch a specific workforce strategy within social care and social services as part of the wider European Care Strategy.