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21st European Social Services Conference: Workshops

Accessible and effective social services for children and families were among the key concerns at the European Social Services Conference this year. In the opening plenary, Jan Truszczyński, the European Commission’s Director General for Education, called on public services “to act together in the interest of the child or the young person”. In the following plenary on ‘Reshaping Services’, Sir Michael Marmot, author of the forthcoming European Review of Social Determinants and the Health Divide, highlighted the importance of pre-natal and early years interventions to reduce health inequalities. Workshops from the UK, Ireland and Sweden drew attention to specific aspects of social services for children and families.

The Investing in Children European Membership Scheme awards organisations able to demonstrate that they have delivered change as a result of dialogue with children and young people. Its director, Liam Cairns, explained that after having piloted the Membership Scheme in Durham, then the UK, they would like to extend the scheme across Europe. In group discussion, participants agreed that at a structural level there has been a major improvement in engagement and dialogue in the last twenty years, but at individual level, professionals needed to seek the participation of children and young people more systematically in decisions affecting their lives. 

The Lifestart Foundation delivers the Growing Child Programme in the UK and Ireland. This is an evidence-based programme on child development for parents of children aged 0-5. It was developed in a context in which local authorities in the UK spend 3.4 billion Euro on children in care out of 3.5 billion Euro annual budget for children’s services, pointing to an imbalance in spending between prevention and response. It is a targeted service based on referrals by general practitioners, social workers and health and social care professionals. It offers home visits by family visitors who address specific parent learning needs and additional services including clinical supervision, family and parenting support. It was reported that providing this service to 1000 families in County Donegal (west of Ireland) costs less than keeping one child in care in Dublin. Workshop participants reacted positively to the presentation of the service. They stressed the need to approach the child from a multidisciplinary approach and to make sure that families participate in and complete the programme on a voluntary basis with trainers from the local community. 

In Sweden, meanwhile, the Municipality of Botkyrka near Stockholm, presented its framework for social services and schools to work together, which is based on the commitment that “we – schools and social services – are partners with as much as openness and transparency as possible.” The municipality recognises that schools are an important resource in social services’ work because children at risk spend a considerable amount of time in the school environment. Each school has a contact social worker to whom referrals can be made – collaboration takes place on the basis of a common policy. Managerial coordination is important both at district level between head-teachers and social work team leaders and at municipality level between directors of education and social services and the relevant municipal committees, who give the framework political legitimacy. 

ESN’s work on children and families centres on the implementation of the EU Recommendation ‘Investing in Children’