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Social services leaders from 39 countries gathered at the 26th European Social Services Conference in Seville to share their challenges and good practice, learn from the experiences that other countries have and share their own.

The theme of the event was empowering users of social services and communities, making best use of investment in human capital and technology to do so. Delegates learnt about truly inspiring developments, from apps to promote independent living or grassroot community initiatives to large-scale digital transformation for people with social care needs.

Investing in communities fit for the future

“We understand that we cannot build a healthy society without weaving a strong social fabric” pointed out New York City Deputy Mayor Herminia Palacio.

European countries start to emerge from years of austerity and focus more on investing in services. Yet there are significant gaps when compared with pre-crisis levels. Discussions at the conference addressed the sustainability of services by linking with private capital through impact financing, the feasibility of a strategy for long-term investment in social infrastructure across Europe, a universal basic income, and investing in the educational and social wellbeing of children and young people. 

Technological change is making jobs more intensive in non-routine tasks. As we need the workforce to be ready for this new world of work, having a strong foundation, building cognitive skills, and supporting partnerships across professionals and sectors are key to support people in our societies. We saw ways of promoting partnership in several countries; for instance, using job-centres as health promotion centres in Essen, Germany, or building new social services models and needs assessment tools through improved employment and social services coordination in Spanish regions.

Towards person-led care

Moving forward in the personalisation of services is increasingly placing the focus of service design and evaluation towards the service user. Common themes addressed in workshops and plenaries included moving from compliance in service standards to commissioning services for people’s wellbeing.

Whilst acknowledging the key importance of safety, we listened to practice examples from the Basque Country and Scotland where new models of care standards are being implemented to support social services staff to be confident in empowering older people to take positive risks which benefit them. A session co-produced by professionals and young people discussed examples from France, Malta and the UK on how young people can be involved in the planning and evaluation of their services and become service inspectors themselves.

Harnessing technology for social services transformation

Technology featured prominently throughout the conference. Discussions addressed the implications of the IT transformation leading to a digital divide between those prepared for technology and those who are not. However, technology can also be a game changer enabling social services to enhance efficiency, exchange information more effectively and allow for stronger user participation.

Digitalisation is transforming the way social services are delivered; from digital assessment tools, data driven analytics and integrated child protection programmes for professionals to interactive social services geo-maps, apps promoting more independent living such as speech recognition and advanced telecare, or e-vouchers for service users.

It became clear that investing in people and communities is key to ensure a strong social fabric to progress towards more equal societies. Opening the conference, Andalucía’s Minister for Social Policies and Equality Maria Jose Sanchez Rubio spoke of the importance of ethics and science to advance social services. With 610 participants, the European Social Services Conference has become the platform for decision-makers and practitioners to support innovation grounded on evidence-based knowledge sharing and development from across Europe and beyond.

More information on the Conference speakers and workshops is available on the Conference website. Delegates can review all the presentation materials through the ESSC 2018 mobile app.

See the conference highlights