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The voluntary European Quality Framework for Social Services put forward by the EU back in 2010 was a step forward towards a common understanding on social services quality within the EU. But in the past thirteen years, the understanding of quality, the way social services are delivered and the mechanisms of quality assurance have significantly evolved. To remain relevant and fit for purpose the framework needs to be updated. To feed into this process, the European Social Network (ESN) runs a working group that will elaborate recommendations on how a revamped EU framework on quality in social services could look like. On 3-4 July 2023 the working group organised its second meeting, hosted by ESN members, Divosa and SAM discussing key quality principles and how they can translate into quality standards.

A framework that needs renewal

While participants agreed on the ongoing relevance of current EU quality framework principles such as person-centredness, outcome orientation and good governance, others such as community-based, well-led and safe were missing or should be mentioned more explicitly in the framework. Certain principles such as adequate infrastructure seem the means to fulfill a principle rather than an actual principle. Hazel Summers, Director of Adult Social Care Improvement at England’s Local Government Association told participants: “The term ‘user’ has been banned from our terminology for years. We talk of a person-centred approach – in an up-to-date quality framework we should rather refer to a person with care experience or person with care needs.”

Translating principles into standards

In total, working group members put forward 17 principles, which now will be categorised and translated into measurable quality standards. In small groups participants elaborated draft standards for each principle and in a next step we will investigate how they can be formulated. Different ways are envisaged. For example, standards could be formulated from the person’s perspective. CQC, the English Social Service Inspectorate, has translated each of its fundamental standards into statements such as “The provider of your care must display their rating in a place you can see it.” Angelique Khaled, Director of Quality of Social Care Services, in the French Inspectorate HAS explained that in its current quality framework principles are translated in 42 standards with 157 indicators: “In our framework, person-centredness and active involvement and participation translates into: The person is supported in their expression of feedback with appropriate tools. Professionals analyse the feedback received from the user and draw conclusions.”

Ensuring Excellence: The Imperative for an Up-to-Date Social Services Quality Framework

Rosita Scanferla, Policy Officer at the European Commission, presented their plan to introduce a specific Framework for Social Services of Excellence for Persons with Disabilities, while ESN national representatives provided an overview of quality frameworks for disability services in Ireland, the United Kingdom and Sweden. A common pattern emerged that frameworks for specific services are always drawn from a general social services quality framework. ESN Chief Executive Officer, Alfonso Lara Montero argued that the European Commission should look at updating the current European social services quality framework before developing frameworks for specific services: “The Commission now has an opportunity to revamp the 2010 social services framework to ensure any potential frameworks in the future are well aligned with the most up to date social services quality standards.” In the upcoming meetings, ESN will further develop recommendations as to how a social services quality framework should look like, particularly considering recent national developments across countries in Europe.