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EDITORIAL by Kirsi Konola

EASPD has started the year 2014 with a new strategy. This strategy gives us the framework for our work and goals until 2017 and is called Reaching Out. Through this strategy we want to make clear that our aim is to allow people with disabilities to enjoy their human rights. For many people with disabilities, social services are enabling them to enjoy those rights – or making it more difficult. Therefore it is crucial to think about what kind of social services we are developing in Europe. A strong focus on human rights, citizenship, participation, involvement of people with disabilities and their families, and individualised services are the values and principles EASPD supports in the development of social services.

In many countries social care systems are under crisis due to austerity measures and big changes in terms of demographics. At national level we are having to do more with less money. Other challenges, such as in public procurement, also make it more difficult for people with disabilities to enjoy their rights.
What kind of services do we need to make a sustainable and inclusive Europe possible? How can we ensure that our services are enabling people with disabilities to enjoy their human rights when we have ongoing economic pressure? We must find ways to listen to the people who use our services more carefully; we must learn about their individual needs and the way they want to be supported. Nobody wants more social services than they need; we must find the way to provide flexible support based on very individual needs. This explains why EASPD has started to explore the possibilities of self-directed support and what it means for providers.

Another important topic is mainstreaming, which is also a key theme in our Reaching Out strategy. One of the key objectives of social services is to support people to take part in society and to participate the way they wish to. Social relationships are one of the basic needs of people and in services we must think how to support this. EASPD has a clear vision on this and published a Roadmap to Deinstitutionalisation towards the end of 2013. Now we have to work together - people with disabilities, their families, mainstream actors, local communities and society - to make this goal a reality.

One of the key issues is, especially when we talk about people with severe disabilities, how those services work together with the families. It is important that families and services work together to support and improve the quality of life of people with disabilities but quite often controversial issues still remain. However, families can play a key role when services are supporting the individual life choices of people, and also be a great resource for those services.

The purpose and core of social services is changing. They are increasingly provided in collaboration with users and those close to them, and are more and more linked to society as a whole. This is a great opportunity to provide social services in a way that meets the needs of the users and also enables them to fulfil their potential. We must see this transitional period as an opportunity for our sector.

Kirsi Konola, Vice-President, Member of EASPD’s Executive Committee