Sketches from FEANTSA conference in Bruxelles

The European conferences that FEANTSA host once a year are always a moment of confrontation, exchange & debate. The 2-days conference is build upon the sequence between study visits (usually the first day), plenary sessions & dedicated workshop. It is a time & an opportunity to meet people, receive inputs during the various working sessions, develop & implement the arising thoughts & suggestions. For some flight-delays, I missed the whole first day of the 2016 edition. Since my first conference, I develop my way to attend: to share & collect suggestions, talks, inputs during the conference; after some days, I see what can be built out of them.
So I did this year in Bruxelles. I took my sketches, and put them together. Here are some general reflections which blossomed during, around and after the conference.

The plenary session: the issue of competence.

If “skills and competence” are taken from themselves, they risk to become pretty solipsistic. To avoid solipsism, it is suggested to start with a serious need analysis and an accurate shaping of the demand of care; it is also always suggested a tailored holistic analysis of who the individual is, what is its discourse and where it leads the person to.
Without a definition of the context and without a precise impact analysis, without the confrontation with the achieved net results, “skills and competence” are just as generous as general and superficial.
Like in all relational dynamics, the point is always set on their inter-personal signification. The point lays in the answer to a double-levelled question: “what skills? … for what competence?”.
As I often remind during my work, the real issue is the exercise of the competence, which means the way individuals use their competence for. This point is often related to the power-dynamics: when the exercise of competence on the competences is lacking, there is usually an movement of self-confirmation, which might be more or less conscious, but it is always an attempt of narcissism.
On the contrary, if a care-worker is honest on the exercise of the competence on the way he/she uses its own competences, he/she won't probably much involved into a power-games, as the focus is on the attempt of understanding the other, of being useful for the other.
The confidence which results in the care-work interventions is the natural net consequent of the honesty and of the transparence of these previous assumptions.

The economical issue.
The economical issues is always the unconvenient litmus paper of any social debate. Individuals can spend hours in debating on how to make a better world, but without the economical analysis, all discussions risk to be pretentious, sometimes even a bit posh. To generate a real change, it must be for real. Otherwise, it risks to be inconsistent.
The centrality of the economical analysis does not mean that we assume economy as the zenith, but simply that we are honest and serious enough to implement a pragmatic approach rather than talk about the weather, even if we do it very intensively.

As a person once told me, if there would have been a cent for every word that was spent on poverty, it would have been eradicated years ago. If we still want to call the Eu we live in as a democratic place, we can not avoid the pragmatism and the net results. Otherwise, people can still talk just as much, while poverty and homelessness will keep on being the depressed siblings of democracy.
This point leads straight to the growing gap between words and action, and, even worst, to the discomforting gap between actions and results, the chasm between equity and net results. Excessive pessimism? It could be ... but ... "Eradicate extreme poverty" was a slogan set in the Lisbon Strategy, launched in 2000 to bring results before 2010.
In 2005 the Lisbon Strategy was revised. The new Revisited Lisbon Strategy set "Ending Homeless" as one of its main goal, while 2010 was remembered as the “European year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion".
2010 was the year which saw the newborn ten-year strategy "Europe 2020": it fixed the goal of liberating 20 million people from their condition of poverty by 2020. 

"To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger" was the first goal of the Millennium Campaign, launched by UN in 2000 and aiming to bring the results by 2015.
The "Post-2015 Development Agenda" project us in 2030.
Ending homelessness is a goal if you do nice and profound talks in a comfortable house. If the structural causes of poverty are not questioned, it doesn't make any substantial change if you live in the streets, of you are under eviction and risk to get there soon. The process risks to be the following:

  • it is not “politically correct”, nor “politically effective”, to question the systematical & economical causes of poverty; 
  • vice versa, it is “politically correct” & “politically effective” to design arabesques on deinstitutionalisation, innovation, & other Columbus' eggs; 
  • instead of investments on systematic & economical responses in term of prevention, tailored solution & impact analysis, we just talk on what we observe (which is quite a passive position, indeed): 
  • evictions keep on massively; people lose their apartments; the same banks, which created the crisis, increase their repossessions, create new tenancies and/or resell the properties, and, with the surplus, make donations to housing policies. 
If the daily experience would not have been dramatic for so many individuals, this PR strategy to clean the collective consciences should run for a nobel prize.

The migration issue.
In the mid of the 90s, in many Eu contexts, it happened to hear that the condition of homelessness were radically changing because of the flux of migrants from former easter non-eu countries. It happened to hear that the migrants from former eastern countries would have changed the homeless debate radically.
In the following 15 years, two things happened: the former eastern countries became eu member states, and received massive economical funds to increase their quality of life; meanwhile, the new Eu markets found a way to transform those fluxes of migrants into low-paid work-force. Other five years and those who benefited form this situation generated the crisis: we all read about the firstly-collapsing banks which have been saved, the construction bubble, the speculation, the austerity measures impacting on people.

Today, it happens to hear that the refugees and the non-eu migrants are radically changing the debate on poverty and homelessness.
It seems that the same talks are just repeated, under the application of different actors in different decades, resulting into an Abba-style refrain “mamma mia, here we go again / how can I resist you”?
Let the unconvenient reality enter the room. All those talks use slightly different terms as the cause in the process of radically changing the effort in ending homelessness. Before it was for the flux of eastern-eu migrants, now it is for the flux of refugees and non-eu migrants.
The point is on “non-eu”: if it depends on the widening of Eu-boundaries, it is to say that the whole debate is on a cultural and ethnic confrontations, us vs. them. Quite a qualitative statement for any self-defined democracy into a global word.
What it is common between the non-eu eastern migrants of the 90s and the non-eu migrants of today is the structural focus on assuming the individuals that ends up being homeless as the main cause of homelessness. 

Good try! The change is on who deserve the blame, in the color of who will carry it, in the residence of who will experience it.

Meanwhile, the debates have new colors on the agendas, and new hosting locations.
Meanwhile, the problems remain, and the “unspeakable” analysis that question the systemic and economical causes keeps just as equal as ever. Banks do their job. Companies do their job. Governments do their job. Social providers do their job. Poverty and homelessness … how can the results be different in their endings, if the beginnings are never on question?

The issue of reciprocity and co-production.
Personally, I find these options of debate quite wrong. If I do not intend to create a certain result, but still the results are there, there are mainly two options: the first is to blame it on others, which it is what happens to hear. The second option is to question our position, and see if we can start some change from within our discourse and assumptions.
To create a different outputs, I prefer to question our structural role. The reason is simple: the structure is the core of a symptoms, while the symptoms always refer to a structure.
It is not complicated at all. It is quite simple: when a child has fever (the symptom), the question is whether it is a symptom of a common cold (the real structural cause), or whether it is the first symptom of an infection (another structural cause). If a parent would treat fever as a reality in itself, there will be a serious risk that the infection worse and the situation escalates.
Every parent knows that the real question is not the fever (the symptom), but what the cause. Not the symptom, but the structure. I do not think there are acceptable reasons to consider taking care of a child in a way different from caring for another person.
There are different approaches, tools and methods that allow the care-worker to question its position at a starting point. According to various professional groups, this can take different shapes and evidences.
It is the discourse of transference and countertransference dynamics: every clinical psychologist knows that they are the signification of any path of recovery.
It's the talk of the emotions, viewed in the key of resilience and/or empathy: every social worker and educator know that how essential they are in building a process of reintegration and recovery.
It is the speech of having the right to self-determine your own live and changes: each care-giver, just as any person who receive the work of care knows that when we are not the full subject of our change, if anything changes, it is only temporary adaptation. Each person who work in a profession of care, just as each individual receiving it knows that to be subject of change there must be a logical space, both real and symbolic: it allows the recognition of the dignity, respect, responsibility in a dynamic reciprocity.
The principles of co-construction and a serious existential and holistic perspective can help in this effort. These principle are simple, yet effective when they suggest:
  • to recognise individuals as assets
  • to build on people capabilities, and capacities
  • to learn to share real mutual responsibilities
  • to engage peers while referring to professionals
  • to blur any form of power games and entrapment.
This approach is not new at all: it is the base of any serious path of recovery, of any contract of care. 
To get a bit deeper, it can be said that there are different levels of co-production, such as:
  • a descriptive level: some sort of co-production already takes place in the delivery of services as people who use services and carers work together to achieve individual outcomes following an holistic and tailored-approach, but activities cannot challenge the way services are delivered. At this level, the co-production is not really recognised; subsequently, people who benefit from it is not fully recognised as the real subject of care, which is still ascribed to the virtues of the services 
  • an intermediate level: there is more recognition and mutual respect, for example where people who use services are involved in the recruitment and training of professionals
  • a full transformative level: new relationships between staff and people who use services are created where people who use services are recognised as experts in their own right.
As the various universe of care-workers include different professions, various level of commitment with the people who benefits from the care-work, and related positions (from psychotherapists and psychologists to social workers and peers), I will try to keep things simple: equality is real only if it is existential.
All others forms are good just for pretending and self-confirming bla-bla talks.
Just as it works for most of us, all individuals have more chances to change when the focus is on their own responsibility, rather than on an assumed, or self-assumed, blame.
It is basically fundamental to structure any care-work on respect for the responsibility arising from self-directions. Where-ever they might lead, any self-direction should not be examined in term of how good it might be for the care-giver, because the work is to take of the other. Not to prove one's right. Care-givers are involved as facilitators, not as subject. Individuals we work with should be the only subjects. We are there to be the object of others's subjects.
This sounds indeed as an emotional relationship, which is exactly what it is. When I am asked for my professional help, I used to say that I do not know much about any other person, but I can offer my support in helping to carry out their answers, and that I will never for sure bring my answer to them.

The issue of “well-being v. needs”.
A real process of care should start from the “well-being”, as it will be open to a more various range of results than the sole response to single needs. It will open to the individuals we work with the possibility of recovery their own story (individual, familiar and transgenerational), their own shape, their own answers, their own lacks and desires, their own life.
The “well-being” allows to overpass the horizon of satisfaction, to enter the realm of eros.
Once this process started, there are some other traps on the way. One of them is the question of “sharing responsibilities”. This locution has always sound strange to me.
If it would be apply to us, we will probably be strong adversaries of anyone trying to take our responsibility away from us. It might sounds amazing, but it works the same also for other people.
Responsibility can only be taken individually. Its assumption and the commitments that follow can be than shared, in a mutual and respectful way.
It is to say that being ingenuous is a luxury affordable only for those who do not have to struggle to survive. The best involvement of a care-worker is the one which ends at the beginning of the other. We do not have to force things to happen: if we are honest and aware, we will see that things are already moving.

Maybe it's a sign of my age, but I am increasingly convinced that the any work of care always implies a responsibility to empower themselves with respect to the process and the approach chosen and the dignity of the other; to do so, it is essential to have a serious and qualified training. So here some reference for those who might be interested to know a bit more about:
- participation: the truly supportive toolkits from FEANTSA:
Get a different result...get people participating", available in English, Catalan, French, German, Polish, Spanish (italian version available soon)
"Redistributing the Power", available in English, French, Dutch, Polish, Spanish and German.
Empowering Ways of Working”, available in English and French

- on co-production:
Fallaras C., I’m the evictee telling you how it is (part.1, part 2, part 3), Liberation 2013
Galimberti U., Psiche e techne, 1999
Miato L., La teoria Vygotzijana, 2004


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