Skip to main content

“Compared to 10-15 years ago, social workers today are having to respond to a different set of needs; an increasing gap in wealth, digital skills and education is producing a range of multiple and complex types of needs.” Christian Fillet, Chair of the European Social Network, opening the ESN Working Group on Social Services Resilience and Transformation Warsaw, Poland on 20 April.  

In Europe, a rising demand for care, support and protection services is being driven, among others, by changing demographics, growing inequality, and the social consequences of unforeseen crises such as the Covid-19 crisis and the invasion of Ukraine. To meet this increasing demand, a report from the International Labour Organisation estimates that governments and organisations collectively worldwide will need to spend an additional seven trillion US dollars on social care by 2030. This stark future puts social services under considerable pressure, which faced with significant challenges in recruiting and retaining staff, makes it difficult to respond to this increasing demand for care.

On 20-21 April, the second meeting of ESN’s Resilience and Transformation Working Group, hosted by the City of Warsaw, brought together directors from social services across Europe to discuss how their organisations can develop their resilience capacities to ensure a continuity of quality services for more people. In particular, they looked at implementing preventative approaches and early interventions, the role of data, and how to develop and manage a workforce that faces increasing workloads.

Frameworks for managing demand

Two experts from public and private sectors were invited by ESN to introduce potential frameworks for social services to be more resilient against increasing demand.

Jessica Chamba, Social Health Associate at EY France, presented the ‘Smart Safety Net’ framework, a system-wide reform that is based on service design driven by the needs of the individual, data driven policy, services and work processes, co-ordination between relevant administrations, and an empowered workforce.

Pointing to an example where the model has been implemented by the department of family and community services of New South Wales in Australia, Ms Chamba highlighted the positive impact of the model, which as a result of early intervention saw a decrease of families entering the foster care system and also led to cost saving for the local authority.

Based on his own research and close-knit work with councils across the United Kingdom, John Bolton, Independent Health and Care Systems Consultant, explained that the assessment mechanisms and services in adult social care can directly impact the level of demand on the system itself. For example, “low level services can accelerate a person’s need for more care,” Mr Bolton explained.

The key action for social services therefore, is “investing in services based on re-ablement, recovery and rehabilitation and progression that promote the independence of supported individuals,” he continued.

Adopting person-centred models

The working group was also an opportunity for ESN members to share successful examples of how cities across Europe are responding to increasing demand by adopting person-centred approaches towards different population groups.

Iris Leene, Vice-President of Divosa, an association of social services directors in the Netherlands, explained how the City of Apeldoorn changed its approach towards managing social assistance measures, tackling poverty and active inclusion to a ‘trust-based approach.’ For the beneficiary requesting social assistance this results in a simplified and faster process, while for the social services organisation less staff are involved, and costs were reduced.

Similarly, Martins Moors, Deputy Director for Welfare of Riga City Council, described how creating a relationship of trust played a central role in how the city’s Youth Support Centre supports the transition process to independent life for young people  leaving state care. Case workers preventively contact young people between 17-24 from all forms of out-of-home care and link them with available psycho-emotional, informational, and educational support.

Reflections for the future

In the short to medium term, social services will continue to be on the frontline of the response to future crises while anticipating a shortage of the appropriate numbers in the workforce.

The solution, in part, also lies outside of the direct remit of social services. Wholescale prevention to reduce demand requires a societal shift to integrate a social perspective in all forms of public planning, which can reduce the likelihood of an individual finding themselves in a situation of vulnerability.

For social services themselves, strengthening the capacity of organisations to adapt and anticipate problems as well as transform systems to be more resilient will be key to ensuring that those supported by social services have quality outcomes from their care and support.

A briefing based on the input to the working group will be prepared by ESN and published later this year. The Resilience and Transformation Working Group will meet again next year to continue its work identifying needs and examples of what works in relation to this objective.


All presentations from the meeting are available for ESN members in the ESN Members Platform. Interested to learn more about any of the practices mentioned in the article? Please contact Victor de Vries at