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There was a time when it was widely accepted that if a person was unable to be fully independent in society, then an institution – often far away from family and friends - was the answer. Happily, such attitudes are in retreat. However, there is still much work to be done if the goal of full inclusion is to be achieved and if people are to live independently with dignity in their community.

This is why the transition towards community-based care and support across all social services and for all people with care needs should be a top priority for the European Parliament and Commission when the new five-year term begins after the EU elections on 6-9 June. Making community-based care a priority is exactly what members of the European Social Network (ESN), said when asked about how the needs of social services can be addressed as a transition takes place.

To support social services in their moves towards community care, ESN is today launching this publication, identifying key elements required for a successful transition. ESN is recommending that the upcoming European Commission launch an EU initiative on community care. 

Why Community Care?

The case for community care grows stronger with each passing year. A survey conducted by the Spanish Ministry for Social Rights and the 2030 Agenda in 2023 found that 8 out of 10 people view those living in institutions as marginalised from society, highlighting the need for measures to enhance their social inclusion. Indeed, international and EU human rights frameworks and guidelines promote people’s right to live and participate in the community.

Recent European Council conclusions also promote a transition to community care, notably the 2023 Council Conclusions ‘on the transition of care systems throughout life towards holistic, person-centred and community-based support models with a gender perspective’. The Council Conclusions recognise that: “steady gains in social rights and greater awareness of the right of all persons to enjoy a full and dignified life have led to the questioning of institutional care models, which in many cases entail segregation and limit fundamental freedoms.”

Other arguments, such as the public health and the economic case, are documented ESN’s latest community care briefing.

How can Community Care be put into Practice?

ESN welcomes recent Council Conclusions inviting EU Member States to promote reforms, “that holistically define and ensure the right to sufficient, appropriate and affordable high-quality, person-centred and community-based care.” To support social services in advancing their transition to community-based care, ESN has looked at a range of community care programmes put in place by its members over the years. This has enabled us to identify key elements of good practice to inspire social services directors and political leaders to improve community care in their country, region or municipality.

These examples have been presented at ESN events such as the 2023 community care seminar, the European Social Services Conference or the European Social Services Awards. Key components include:

1) A vision and the leadership to bring about that vision

2) Funding to make it happen

3) The participation of all those affected

4) An engaged leadership and workforce

5) The power of prevention

6) Accessible communities

7) Co-design with people using services

To help decision-makers and social services managers in establishing community-based services ESN has created a checklist of items to be considered when planning, delivering and evaluating each of the key components of community care. 

Towards an EU Initiative on Community Care

Asked about key priorities that should be addressed by future Members of the European Parliament following the 2024 EU elections, ESN members identified more EU support for community care as one of their central asks. Graham Owen, representing the Association of Social Services Directors in Sweden explained this as follows: “EU support for Community Care is required to transform social services across Europe towards a care system that responds to people’s needs in the community.”

Much has changed for the better since the time when people in need of support were mainly placed in institutions, but the current status quo needs to be improved. This is why ESN is asking the next European Parliament and Commission to launch a European Community Care initiative which ensures that EU funds focus on community-based programmes and  promotes a ‘care guarantee for all’ so that people can access the care and support they need in their communities. 

The full ESN briefing ‘Enhancing Community Care: Social Services – A Force for Change’ and the executive summary can be found here