Getting into Europe might be a target for professional football
teams, but is it a goal for social care? We might talk about
forever moving goalposts on increasingly uneven playing fields but
can we ever become champions of Europe?
The Home Farm Trust, a national charity supporting people with
learning difficulties, seems to have what it takes to do well in
Europe. The European Commission most recently sponsored its
one-year “Families In” project with partners from Sweden, Finland,
Spain, Belgium and Hungary. And it has two more projects in the
“Families In was set up to seek views from families about the types
of services that they had now and what they would need in the
future,” says Phil Madden, director of service development at HFT.
He adds: “Each partner convened seminars and brought people
together. We had a loose framework as we wanted to keep things open
to what was important to families.
“It was very striking that many things were similar. It was clear
that right across Europe the vast majority of community care is
provided by and in families. For many families there wasn’t any
serious involvement in the delivery of policy or the degree of
reliability or flexibility of funding or services they wanted.
There were, however, concrete examples of people working creatively
together on a strategic and individual level: so the message from
that strongly was that it can be done.”
Madden suggests that professionals often do not think enough of the
whole family. “There is lot of emphasis, and quite rightly, on
person-centred planning and people taking more control over their
individual lives. But there is a similar and non-conflicting need
for families to develop the same sort of capacities. There are
world-wide examples of family capacity building models – including
a particularly interesting example from Norway – and we would like
to try and synthesise these to enable families to become more
confident and coherent in what they are trying to achieve,” he
Families In is the latest in a long line of European projects that
HFT has been successfully involved in. “Inevitably once you develop
a record of delivering, the commission is more likely to give you
funding,” says Madden. Also being a member of European Association
of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD) has
helped: “Very often we have ready-made partners, who may also have
other partners to bring in – it’s a really rich network. We also
have partners that have a similar passionate belief in trying to
make things better. We work with people who are not just in it for
However, the path to a successfully managed European project
requires a basic first step. Says Madden: “One thing that makes it
work – and which makes anything work really – is having clarity of
purpose: what are we really trying to achieve? We make time for
careful thought on that.”
Communication, as ever, is critical. But perhaps more so in Europe.
“The working language is English. What I have found as a matter of
courtesy and effectiveness is to speak as clearly and as slowly as
necessary: it is a very big point that you need to allow enough
time in meetings to recognise that it is a lot of work for people
whose first language is not English to understand what is being
said, let alone think about it. They then have to communicate with
each other in this language, so you have to keep checking in
meetings and in e-mails: do we understand what is really
However, a bigger challenge often presents itself once a project is
concluded: “Once disseminated we are not wanting this to be
something that has happened, finished and filed away. We need to
look at how we can further use the information. We are pursuing
with the commission how to secure extra funding to further
understand the role and strength of families – particularly around
the commission’s big themes of inclusion and employment,” says
For sheer team spirit alone, when it comes to being a champion of
Europe, HFT does seem to be in a league of its own.
- Families In reports are available from e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
NAME: Phil Madden.
JOB: Director of service development, Home Farm
QUALIFICATIONS: CQSW equivalent; MSc Research;
Diploma in Management Studies.
LAST JOB: Principal policy officer, Avon
FIRST JOB: Nursing assistant, in what was then
called a “mental sub-normality” hospital in Wales.
- Don’t go in cold – talk to people who have done it and join a
- Be clear about your purpose.
- Be aware that it is easy to be misunderstood by people whose
first language is not English.
- Do it for the money – it’s a slush fund waiting to be
- Don’t worry about having any technical expertise.
- Don’t find out what priorities the commission has – it’s too
big and shapeless to care.