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The European Social Network (ESN) recently held national events in Stockholm, Sweden, and Athens, Greece, addressing the framework of the Social Services HelpDesk on EU Funds project, to facilitate improved accessibility to EU funding for social services.

The goal of the events was to examine how the HelpDesk can support social services access European funds for social inclusion programmes. It also provided a forum for participants to share their experiences of the initiative within their individual national contexts.

Insights from Swedish Forum

The Swedish forum brought together Managing Authorities of the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) in Sweden, responsible for awarding EU funds, as well as representatives from authorities that plan social services,providers and civil society organisations. Participants from local authorities, Managing Authorities and social services providers made clear during the event that there is a need for continuous support for social services if they are to access and manage EU funding more effectively in the future. Jonna Källström Böresson from the Swedish ESF+ Council emphasised that “Limited resources within social services to meet the administrative burden of project applications are highlighting the tendency for organisations to be hesitant to apply for funding as they anticipate it will mean extra work and pressure on the organisation which is disproportionate to the benefits of funding.”

Therefore, one issue highlighted was the importance of support to access funds, such as a help desk in place to improve project application processes. In addition, the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), a comprehensive training programme offering practical knowledge and skills for those interested in EU funded projects, was praised by the participants as “answering a great capacity building need around processes and better understanding on EU funding.” 

Key Takeaways from the Greek Forum

At the Greek forum, co-organised with ESN member, the Social Administration Research Laboratory of the University of West Attica (UWA), and the Social Welfare Centre of Attica Region (KKPPA), European Commission representatives were joined by and representatives from the Greek Ministry of Social Cohesion and Family Managing Authorities and local authorities representatives working on social inclusion, child protection, and refugee support.

Attendees discussed the European Care Strategy, the Child Guarantee and social innovation programmes, as well as how policy making at the European level can further enhance national priorities in these areas. Insights were offered on how EU funding can help support the Greek national social care system.

Marina Stefou, General Secretary of Demographic and Housing Policy, within the Greek Ministry of Social Cohesion and Family, emphasised the actions and programmes implemented in Greece, supported by EU funding, with a focus on independent living, professional fostering of children with severe disabilities, and early intervention programmes. Ms Stefou commented:

“Our goal is to carry out actions that concern the strengthening of the child and the families nearing the threshold of poverty and in this we require the valuable support of the European Commission together with the ESF, and the promotion of good of practices applied in other countries to ensure the use of the available funds.”

The discussions reinforced the importance of the HelpDesk project in addressing key challenges in areas related to accessing and managing EU funding for social inclusion programmes led by social services. For example, those related to the deinstitutionalisation of community care for mental health, disability, and the promotion of family-based services for children.

Cristiana Continescu, Deputy Head of Unit for Greece and Cyprus at the European Commission, underlined that: “Building a stronger social Europe is at the heart of policy making at the EU level.” She added: “We need to transform our economies to become fair and more inclusive and to respond better to the needs of the citizens [...] and, transforming social care and providing new services require a lot of funds.”

Both events concluded by illustrating the significant institutional, organisational and financial challenges of social services. In addition, there was a clear emphasis on how ease of access to relevant EU funding initiatives could help ensure adequate, affordable and sustainable social services.