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In the wake of multiple and overlapping crises, ‘resilience’ is a term that has gained popularity in the discussions around the response of social services. However, the increased use of the word leads to many different associations that also risk diluting its meaning. The 30th European Social Services Conference (ESSC) in Hamburg was an opportunity for public authorities, professionals, and care providers to reflect together on what resilience means to them in the context of recovery.

Understanding resilience

Cornelia C. Walther, Poze Space creator, has been working with social service professionals across the globe on social transformation from the inside out, offering tools for resilience. From her vast experience, Ms Walther distils resilience down to assessing the needs of individuals, in other words, identifying and acknowledging their vulnerabilities to be able to put in place relevant and targeted measures. “We tend to focus on the surface and in this way omit the roots underneath that may lead to change,” said Ms Walther.

An example from Vienna

An example of this needs assessment being central to the development of services was shown in a workshop held by the City of Vienna. Ursula Ganal, Head of Staff Unit, and Judith Lengyel-Wiesinger, Policy Advisor, presented the Vienna Social Monitoring tool, which aims to record the overall situation of people affected by poverty using existing indicators and empirical knowledge across departments to put in place necessary countermeasures in a timely manner.

From adversity comes resilience

Drawing from her personal experience, Sinead Kane, international resilience speaker who has 5% vision, shared with the audience the difficulties she faced throughout her life that impacted her confidence. For example, during her time in school, Ms Kane expressed that she did not feel empowered by her teachers to excel in education.

Now with two PhD’s under her belt, Ms Kane explained she has learnt that “resilience is about confidence,” so, “when it is taken away it is more difficult to be resilient.” Despite having felt she lacked the care needed, she added that “social workers I interacted with were overworked.” In acknowledgement of the lack of resources for social services, Ms Kane later reflected “how can social services have that relationship if they are battling a lack of funding?”

Sourcing investment for better resilience

Speakers highlighted that investment needs to be well targeted to have the best possible impact on people who use social services. “We negotiated with the Commission to include the development of community social services in the Czech National Recovery and Resilience Plan, to provide additional impetus to our upcoming long-term care reform, which will create a more crisis proof, integrated and community-based long-term care system.”  said Jan Vrbický, Director of the Social Services Department at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Czech Republic.

Petra Lotzkat, State Secretary at the Ministry of Labour, Health, Social, Family Affairs and integration in Hamburg, Germany emphasised that funders of social services will also need to look more at the achieved results: “We cannot afford anymore to invest in programmes, without knowing if they effectively bring the desired support for people in need.”

In addition to increasing financing, Ms Kane provided some practical advice for people working in social services, which followed the line of Ms Walther’s need to concentrate on the needs of the individuals: “Open up the dialogue, it comes down to the person, and to the social worker, their attitude to their day.”

Time for a paradigm shift in social services resilience

Resilience has become a central topic in ESN activities since the start of the pandemic. ESN’s focus has been on supporting social services to be better placed to respond to people’s needs and ensuring care and support continuity in times of crisis. This theme took centre stage in the conversations held throughout the 30th ESSC in Hamburg and will continue to feature in the activities of ESN’s working group on transformation and resilience and the 2022 edition of the European Social Services Awards, which under the theme ‘Innovation for Social Change’ will recognise innovations to improve the resilience of social services and the people supported by them.