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David Bisset participated in a conference held at the University of Bucharest on 22nd & 23rd April, 2024. Indeed, he gave a short presentation showcasing aspects of Equilibrium’s work and, specifically, the way that the methods and techniques used during the project ‘The Voice of Adversity’ represented the creative adaptation of a variety of models encountered over a period of almost 15 years. The Ruse family centre acted as an “incubator” for the development of ideas.

The Bucharest conference was undertaken in the context of an international project funded by the EU and named ‘Responsive Social Services: Strengthening the Impact of User Participation’ and entails collaboration among 11 organizations (see: https:/responsive-europe.eu/).

We believe that 22 different countries were represented in Bucharest, and the project team members (mainly academics) and other delegates represented a broad range of service users. This means that presentations, symposia, and informal discussions extended beyond the boundaries of social services for vulnerable children and their families. The Responsive website refers to reviewing “the normative, legal, policy and organisational contexts for responsiveness to diverse citizens within social services” to “reveal the discursive and institutional foundations shaping the dialogue between citizens and social services”.

It sounds complicated, doesn’t it? It’s complex but not all that complicated. It entails being seen as a whole human being and more than just a client or patient. It involves being respected and listened to so as to receive help that is relevant to you as an individual and consistent with your desires and aspirations.

It was noteworthy that in the project’s multinational context, activism relating “citizenship through participation” is not uncommon in the domain of disability but is practically non-existent in the domain of child clients of social services where there is a significant tension between genuine responsiveness to the individual needs and aspirations of a youngster (and / or parents) and the pronounced tendency to “act in the best interests” of that youngster within a framework of “typification” (e.g. focus on what the individual is as opposed to who (s)he is).

This tendency was graphically illustrated in stories told by David illustrating the way in which it is very difficult for professionals to look beyond the issues they associate with the range of classifications they apply to their young clients. The child is seen and treated as a representative of a “type” or category and not as a fully-fledged individual because education in social work tends to be issues-based and not people-based.

David asked how you can determine the best interests of the average teenage mother when there is no such thing as the average teenage mother.

David also argued that too frequently, people do not feel a sense of autonomy, competence, or relatedness as service users. It is difficult to become personally motivated without sensing you are free to do things of your own volition (autonomy), without feeling that you actually have the capacity to do the things you are being asked to do (competence) and without feeling a sense of rewarding relationships (relatedness).

This means that two of the most important acts of responsiveness would be –

Elimination of potent signifiers of power differentials between service providers and service users

Softening the cold, clinical, bureaucratic environments in which services tend to be delivered.

These were guiding principles when creating the Ruse family centre.