Held in Tallinn, Estonia, the conference was designed to share ideas and push forward deinstitutionalisation within the EU. The event discussed the benefits moving away from using institutions and speeding up the changeover to community based care for people with disabilities. The event involved over 40 key speakers including the President of AGE Platform Europe, Ebbe Johansen and the Director at the Directorate-General Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion at the European Commission, Andriana Sukova-Tosheva. As explained on the event’s webpage, it sought to formulate new methods for funding DI and building on the deinstitutionalisation concept. Protecting and supporting human rights were a key focus of discussion as was furthering the ‘EU-wide framework of participatory social welfare policies’. The two-day conference coincided with the Presidency’s current aim of promoting inclusion in Europe.
European Parliament Member and Co-Chair of the Disability Intergroup, Helga Stevens, offered some opening remarks in sign language touching on topics including deinstitutionalisation, the rights of people with disabilities and segregation. Emphasising the need to change mindsets across Europe, she explained:
“I would like to warn that it is not enough to break down big institutions and replace them with small living units in the society if for the rest, nothing changes. If children with disabilities are still taken away from their families and placed in so called “special care units” run by institutions without any access to qualitative education and rehabilitation services and without access to their non-disabled peers, then this is still segregation.”
The European Social Network (ESN) echoes these sentiments and encourages moves to foster inclusive community care.
Among the main themes of the conference were:
- the importance of committed long term political support
- the need to apply human rights to everyone
- the need to change mindsets Europe-wide and reduce stigma
- the importance of each person being able to control their own lives
- the importance of doing more than simply making intuitions smaller
- highlighting the benefit of cooperation because similar challenges appear Europe-wide
- focusing on moral, legal and ethical reasons to promote deinstitutionalisation rather than financial considerations
- highlighting the value of equality for all
- and finally, a message of hope that anything can be achieved
ESN and a focus on the future
Conference delegates took stock of progress made so far towards independent living while also looking to the future. This forward-facing and collaborative approach feeds into ESN’s extensive and continuous work supporting the move to community based care. For example, ESN’s 2011 report ‘Developing Community Care’ recommended that ‘[a] clear vision should stimulate continuous improvement and new ways of designing and delivering services. It means moving not just away from the setting but also from the culture of institutions towards community-based services that promote self-determination, dignity and wellbeing for individuals.’
The conference brought together those working for European institutions, agencies, governments, NGOs as well as academics in the field. By inviting the President of the Ontario Assertive Community Treatment Association (Ontario Act) it also offered the opportunity to learn from the experiences of non-EU countries. This conference was a step in the right direction as it illustrated for the groups attending the clear need for political support, the further promotion of human rights and a change in public attitudes along with many other important ideas. All of this contributes to a movement towards community care that benefits and supports all EU citizens.