The right to quality social services is a key element of the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR). But how to put this right to quality into practice? The European Social Network (ESN) discussed this question with EU decision makers, care quality experts, representatives of people using social services and social services professionals at a roundtable discussion on 16 November.

Reforming quality standards towards results-based approach

An important element of ensuring equal access to quality care across Europe is the regulation of quality standards. In 2007 for example, the Czech government set up human rights-based quality standards for social services that operate in the country. “The path of quality never ends, this why we started a new reform,” explained Markéta Holečková, representing the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs at the roundtable. In collaboration with providers and other stakeholders involved, the ministry has started a reform process towards a results-based social service evaluation. Kai Leichsenring, Executive Director, European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research, Austria agreed on the need to reform social services legislation in Europe in order to move away from fee per service to outcome-based funding.

Getting the right tools and conditions for social carers

In order to abide by quality regulations professional carers need the right tools and working conditions. Julia Pollak, from the National Association of Social Workers, Austria said that inadequate staff support, high workloads, unreliable working times and short-term contracts can create an environment in which it is difficult to provide high quality professional social care. Ms Pollak explained, that therefore, it is vital to use funding and procurement mechanisms that help to create a working environment conducive to quality care.

Ger Brophy, Chief Social Worker at TUSLA, the Irish Child and Family Agency, reinforced this by highlighting the need for quality guiding tools to support social care professionals in implementing quality standards in their day-to-day work. TUSLA for example has developed the so-called “Empowering Practitioners and Practice Initiative”, which is an online tool that supports new social workers in their first year of service.

Designing services to meet the needs of users

“When I entered a childcare home for the first time as a social worker, I could still recognize that clinical smell and the sad white walls that surrounded me in the care home I grew up in in the 1990s,” reported Chris Wild, expert by experience during the opening session of the roundtable. “We need to let the children have a say how they want to be cared for.” This call was echoed by Ger Brophy: “At TUSLA, we follow a child rights-based approach, that means that children need to be involved in the decisions over their care.” Having users involved in decisions about their care, is also the aim of the ‘triangular care-counselling model’, applied by the Municipality of Esbjerg in Denmark, as explained by Elsebeth Nebeling from the local social department: “When assessing which type of long-term care is required for a person, our social workers have a tri-partite discussion with the user, including his or her family and the professional care service involved.”

Ensuring EU support for quality social services

Mr Lara Montero explained that: “The EU voluntary framework dating back to 2010, is an example on how the EU can help national governments in setting up EU-wide quality standards in social services, but after so many years it is time for a review.” One step in this direction would be the ‘Rights-Economic Investment-Coverage (REC) Index‘, developed by Spanish social services directors in collaboration with Alfonso Lara Montero, who concluded: “We invite the European Commission to a dialogue on how this Index could be used as an enhancement tool for quality social services across Europe”