At the 23rd European Social Services Conference, delegates discussed a life-cycle approach in social, education, employment and health services and assessed practice. This approach emphasises early years support, preventive approaches in later life and service users’ enablement to overcome difficult situations throughout their lives.

An early investment in services for children and young people is crucial to guarantee their future participation in society. The Italian ‘Programme of Intervention for Preventing Institutionalisation (PIPI)’ presented by Paola Milani from Padua University focuses on the needs of children at risk of neglect and their parents, rather than parental default. Multidisciplinary teams (including social workers, teachers, psychologists and other families) work with parents and children to improve parental skills and family relationships. As a result of this intervention, children’s development and parental responses to children’s needs improved compared to a group of children and families, who did not take part.

Sarah Johnson presented the National Disability Insurance Scheme in Australia that focuses on early investment to improve people’s independence and participation. The aim is to provide more choice and control for service users as they receive personal budgets that are based on their reasonable and necessary support needs.

Wolfgang Müller from the German Federal Employment Agency stressed the costs throughout the life cycle if interventions are not done early enough. In Germany, 85% of young people between 15 and 20, who are unemployed for at least four months, have not completed vocational education and training. Therefore, early intervention in schools is necessary. This is the approach of German Youth Employment Agencies: one-stop-shops that provide targeted employment, social and school administration services. As a matter of example, the Youth Employment Agency in Hamburg managed to reduce to number of early-school leavers that are unknown to employment services from 30% to 1% in two years.

Mirella Minkman from the Dutch Centre of Expertise in Long-Term Care (Vilans), explained that the decentralisation process in the Netherlands has put more responsibility for care on local authorities, citizens and communities. This comes along with a shift in care from curing physical conditions to a wider approach that focuses on wellbeing and participation. This approach has led to the creation of over 120 different local initiatives of cooperation between municipalities, health care insurers, providers, citizens and users.


Early intervention and prevention were highlighted as key to implement a successful life-cycle approach in public services. Delegates also raised questions about the difficulties in measuring the outcomes of the various approaches, because of the involvement of different agencies with different working cultures and the need to look at long-term effects.

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