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The European Social Network is pleased to be featured once more in the British newspaper "The Guardian". After the article on unaccompanied minors published last August, ESN's Policy Director, Alfonso Lara Montero, contributes to the section Social care network: children's services hub of the newspaper with a new article on children's services. This time the focus is on the impact of the social services workforce on the delivery of children support. 

Please find below the text of the article.

Workforce reform is vital to ensure change in children's services

As countries across Europe look at how to innovate, new policies must go hand in hand with staff training and development

This is a crucial time in Europe for public social services attempting to meet the needs of disadvantaged children. It is vital to sustain investment in services such as child protection, even against a backdrop of cuts to public budgets in many countries, but investment is unlikely to be wholly successful without workforce reform.

Assessment of child protection services reform has become a key focus of our work at the European Social Network, which promotes the exchange of knowledge among local public social services to contribute to effective policy development. Our recent report Investing in Children’s Services – Improving Outcomes makes clear that an effective investment strategy for children’s services requires an integrated approach in service provision to meet all a child’s needs.

Earlier this year, the UK government stated its vision for change of child social care in England, emphasising the workforce as one of its cornerstones for improved delivery. In particular, the government spelled out the need to realise excellence in practice, improve practitioner training and invest in workforce learning and development. In Scotland, the child protection learning and development programme aims to support the workforce and help them identify learning and development needs. Elsewhere in Europe, a range of programmes and policies have been developed to support the workforce in the move towards a more preventive and integrated way of working.

Speaking at the launch of our report at the European parliament, Aisling Gillen, policy development manager of the Child and Family Agency in Ireland, described how 70 jobs had been reconfigured to make the focus of professionals working with children and families more preventive in three pilot programmes on Dublin housing estates.

Judit Lannert, senior expert at the Tárki-Tudok Centre for Knowledge Management and Educational Research in Hungary, went further and argued for altogether new, multi-disciplinary jobs. She proposed a new role of “social health assistant”, who could be “trained for complex advisory work, for healthcare consulting, to fill the functions of a social carer, communicate with and help disadvantaged mothers, and support the traditional health visitor”.

For integrated service provision to be successful, speakers argued, it was important not only to align policies but also to provide a common space for joint training to enable professionals to work together.

According to Marie-Paule Martin-Blachais, former managing director of France’s National Observatory for Children at Risk, the new regulatory framework in France goes in that direction as it introduces basic child protection principles into the initial training of all professionals in the health, social, education and legal sectors. The framework requires French county councils, which have the statutory duty of child protection, to integrate common training needs in their child protection plans.

Graham Owen, representing Sweden’s association of social services directors, said the pressures of dealing with an influx of migrant children had forced fresh thinking on workforce issues, prompting experiments in multi-agency working to relieve over-stretched social workers. In addition, many individuals and groups in the community had come forward with offers of help, opening up new opportunities to exploit social capital.

Children’s services in Europe are in transition to a more preventive, community-based and integrated approach, increasingly focused on improving outcomes for children and families. Making change happen in children’s lives is a task that draws on the skills and expertise of many professionals – family support workers, professionals in the police, health, and education and child and family social workers, who hold the statutory responsibility for keeping children safe.

To deliver this change, and to ensure the highest possible standards, we need to bring the best and brightest into child protection and childcare and be innovative in how they are supported to develop the skills they need.