Skip to main content

“The Voluntary European Quality Framework for Social Services deserves a revision to improve its relevance and use.” So says one of the key recommendations on the EU’s future policy priorities for the European Pillar of Social Rights, put forward by the Employment and Social Protection Committees at the Council of the EU, and endorsed by the latter on 11 March this year.

On 18 and 19 April, members of the European Social Network (ESN) met to discuss what a more relevant and useful European Quality framework for Social Services could look like. During the third meeting of the Working Group on Quality in Social Services, ESN members developed standards that could form the basis for a revisited European Framework for Quality in Social Services, which is in line with recent trends such as outcomes-based quality assessment and key principles of quality such as person-centeredness.

Ensuring outcome-based Quality Standards

“In recent years we have seen a shift from structure-oriented, towards person- and outcomes-oriented quality assurance, with good quality of life for the person being the key result to be achieved as an outcome of social service delivery”, said Alfonso Lara Montero, CEO of ESN, introducing recent trends in social services’ quality assurance. At the 2024 meeting of the working group, participants coming from quality agencies, public authorities, and service providers, jointly drafted 25 proposals for a revamped common European Quality Framework for Social Services.. These standards’ proposals were prepared in consultation with people using services, prior to the meeting. All standards were formulated in the form of ‘I-Statements’ as outcomes for the person using social services. 

Building Quality Standards based on People’s Needs

Quality Standards, based on outcomes formulated as I-Statements are already common practice in some countries. This is the case notably in, Ireland’ s Overarching National Standards for the Care and Support of Children using Health and Social Care, or in England’s new Single Assessment Framework. “The decision to use I-Statements in England, as a way of describing outcomes that people expect from services, was taken based on our belief that people want a life – not a service”, explained Simon Williams, Director of Social Care Improvement, Partners in Care and Health, United Kingdom.

Christopher Drysdale, Policy Advisor at England’s Care Quality Commission further outlined that in England’s new Single Assessment Framework  I-Statements are complemented by ‘We Statements’ that describe the aspirations service providers should adhere to in order to meet people’s expectations.

In Ireland, such statements are in addition, accompanied by descriptions of ‘arrangements’ that service providers should have in place to meet the desired outcomes. Carol Grognan, Chief Social Services Inspector at HIQA, Ireland’s Social Services Inspection Agency, explained it as follows: “When we introduced ‘I-Statements’ in our new quality frameworks, providers requested complementary explanations on what they should have in place to meet expected outcomes. Therefore, we provided suggestions with arrangements that should be in place.”

Translating Principles into Standards

Having agreed to take a similar approach, this year’s working group participants drew up quality standards formulated as ‘I Statements’, ‘We Statements’, and ‘Arrangements’. These standards were built on the six key quality principles identified at the group’s 2023 meeting. Namely these were: a) human-rights-based, b) person-centred, c) safe, d) community-based, e) well-led and f) outcomes-oriented. The final proposals will now be fine-tuned and receive a final review by professionals and people using services, before being presented to the European Commission in 2025 as an initiative to be taken further.

Following the working group meeting, Alfonso Lara Montero called for the European Commission and national governments to take this initiative on board: “Our proposal will be coming from those involved and impacted by social services quality assurance," he said. "It should be a key reference for defining future EU actions on social services.”