Over the past two years, the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL) has been co-chairing the European Expert Group on the Transition from Institutional to Community-based Care (EEG). Now that this time is coming to an end, we have decided to take stock of our work in EEG and to reflect on the challenges ahead.
EEG is a broad coalition gathering stakeholders representing people with care or support needs and their families, including children, disabled people, homeless people, people experiencing mental health problems; as well as service providers, public authorities and intergovernmental organisations.
Our co-chairmanship began in July 2015, when Peter Lambregths joined Luk Zelderloo, from the European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD), and Maria Herczog, from Eurochild in the co-chairs’ trio. The role of the co-chairs is to provide leadership, to plan internal meetings and open meetings with the European Commission, and to represent the group at different events. In July 2016, ENIL agreed to stay on as one of the three co-chairs for another year, this time together with Liz Gosme, from COFACE – Families Europe, and Jan Pfeiffer, from Mental Health Europe. Sadly, Peter passed away in August the same year, and we have decided that Jamie Bolling would take over from him as a representative of ENIL.
During the two years, we have played an active part in the group and have invested significant human (and some financial) resources in the work of EEG. Advocating for the closure of institutions, and the development of community-based alternatives, which is at the core of EEG’s work, is of course, what ENIL is all about. Given that the group brings together different stakeholders, including those advocating for children’s rights, family carers, the homeless, but also service providers and UN agencies, it is an important voice for deinstitutionalisation and community living in Europe. EEG’s resources – the Ad Hoc Expert Group Report, the Common European Guidelines on the Transition from Institutional to Community-based Care and the Toolkit on Using the EU Funds – have been used in many countries to draft or push for strategies and plans for deinstitutionalisation. Importantly, the European Commission considers EEG a partner when it comes to the use of the European Social Fund and the European Regional Development Fund in the Member States.
As one of the three co-chairs, ENIL has helped organise two trainings on deinstitutionalisation for the European Commission officials, and one training for the ESF Managing Authorities and the European Commission (the latter in cooperation with the ESF Thematic Network on Social Inclusion). We have spoken at a number of national seminars on deinstitutionalisation, most recently in France, Cyprus and Poland, and have been active in various task forces – for example, on deinstitutionalisation in Western Europe, and on the European Semester. Much work has also gone into coordination of the group, and together with other EEG members, we have adopted a Memorandum on Membership and helped secure funding for the EEG Coordinator.
Next month, a new trio will take over co-chairing of the group – Roger Singleton, from Lumos, Sabrina Ferraina, from EASPD, and Milan Sverepa, from Inclusion Europe. Although no longer a co-chair, ENIL will continue being an active EEG member. We are currently taking a lead on the upcoming national seminars in Belgium and Spain, together with EASPD and Eurochild, and will be participating in the Estonian Presidency conference on deinstitutionalisation in October this year.
As a truly user led organisation, we believe ENIL has an important role in EEG. While not always easy to come to an agreement with very diverse partners – some of which also represent institutional care providers – we need to have our voice heard. It is only by working with others that we can make sure there is better understanding of what Independent Living is (and isn’t) about and what needs to be done for it to become a reality for disabled people. We must work together to make sure that deinstitutionalisation and Independent Living remain on the agenda of the European Commission and the Member States, and that we have our say in relation to any polices or plans that affect disabled people’s right to live independently.
We wish the new co-chairs good luck in the next term, and look forward to working with them.