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In the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been an increase of 15-30% in needs and demands for social services across Europe.

This rising demand for care and protection services has been driven by several factors such as an ageing population, changing employment practices and heightened social risk factors. At the same time, rising debt levels, budgetary constraints and a lack of a whole-of-government approaches are thwarting a preventative approach.

Last month, in collaboration with EY, ESN organised a webinar to discuss how governments and authorities – enabled by data and technology – are rethinking how they can protect society’s most vulnerable people.

Future challenges for social services

“If we look at demographic ageing, the number of people who will need long-term care support in 2050 will increase from 30 to 38 million in 2050,” said ESN CEO Alfonso Lara Montero, opening the webinar.

He was joined by experts from France, Scotland, Romania, and Australia to discuss the scale of the challenge and how they are responding to the vulnerability that has become a critical issue for governments worldwide.

Jessica Chamba, EY Partner, highlighted how according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), governments globally would need to spend more than 7 trillion USD by 2030 in social care for children, women, old people and other vulnerable populations. “Budgets are not supportive enough looking at how the needs are rising”, she said, highlighting how social problems are often treated in silos, with lack of co-ordinated service delivery, labour shortages and lack of data presenting barriers to a more prevention-focused approach.

Enhancing child protection through preventative measures

It is fundamental to ensure that social services take a more preventive rather than reactive approach, to be better prepared to tackle both recent crises such as Covid-19, the war in Ukraine, and the rising cost-of-living, as well as those approaching on the horizon.

Particular attention should be given to the rising number of children in the child protection system over the past three years. Ruth Sills from ESN member, the Centre for excellence for looked after children in Scotland (CELCIS) highlighted how  53% of children in Scotland have experienced poverty in the last twelve years, as well as domestic abuse, neglect,  poor parental mental health and substance misuse. Despite the Scottish Government’s policy “Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC),”  Ms Sills highlighted the need of a multi-agency approach to tackle the still recurring challenges such as silo working, cross policy alignment, resourcing and leadership.

As an example of how the silos between different agencies could be broken, EY Partner, Mark Nixon, presented the EY Case Management and Intelligence platform being used in Victoria (Australia). The platform brings data across agencies, case workers, policy makers and child protection workers, and uses advanced data analytics to create a single view of the child that highlights the best intervention strategy. “It has brought measurable positive outcomes for communities, including earlier and more proactive support and reduced waiting times, as well as better and more targeted service planning; better allocation of resources and improved collaboration,” said Mr Nixon.

Joining the  discussion, Ana Radulescu, Director of the Centre for Training and Assessment in Social Work (CFCECAS) (Romania), another ESN member, underlined the importance of building prevention into social services policy and practice. “We need to ensure, when taking a multi-agency approach, that we are all using the same language and moving in the same direction,” she added.

The presentations also provoked discussions on different approaches to data privacy. In Victoria, Australia, legislation concerning child protection overrides all data privacy legislation, reflecting a different approach to many European countries. 

Mark Nixon highlighted improved outcomes for children and their families and more sustainable costs as the two key arguments for harnessing the power of prevention. A focus on prevention also provides motivation for those who come into social work to improve people's lives, added Ruth Sill.

 Be part of the conversation

ESN will return to these themes at the 2024 European Social Services Conference (ESSC), taking place in Antwerp (Belgium) on 26-28 June.  Co-creating social services of the future with a focus on prevention, local social inclusion and community development are among the main topics to be discussed.

Register before 31 December to take advantage of the super early-bird discount of 10% on the conference fee.

Watch the discussion here.