The Swiss Conference of Cantonal Social Services Directors

Social problems often require cross-cantonal solutions. The Swiss Conference of Cantonal Social Services Directors helps ensure cantonal coordination in this sector. This Conference represents cantonal interests vis-à-vis the national government, and it has a permanent office in Bern. It also works with various national authorities, including the Federal Social Insurance Office, the Federal Statistical Office and, in asylum cases, with offices in the Federal Department of Justice and Police.

The current Conference had its origins in 1943 as the "Conference of Cantonal Poverty Wardens". This was meant as a forum where cantons could discuss social services issues, which in essence resulted in focusing on the social security system, family and social policy, children and youth policy, disability policy, and migration. Decisions this Conference reached were passed on to the cantons as recommendations.

The working program of the Conference in this early period included discussing rules for controlling costs the poor incurred, improving assistance to relatives, and creating a concordat to introduce residence-based welfare benefits. Regular statistical surveys of cantonal expenditures benefitting the poor were also carried out. The expansion of the national old-age pension system (AHV) in 1947 was supported by this Conference. During the 1940s, it also coordinated the fight against alcoholism, and to this end, cantons were enjoined to establish suitable institutions for alcoholics.

From 1959 to 1997, it called itself the "Conference of Cantonal Social Welfare Directors". In the early 1960s, it continued to address questions related to the obligation to provide support, and together with the Swiss Conference of Welfare Organizations, lobbied to replace the community of origin principle for welfare benefits with a community of residence principle. Among other issues, the Conference concerned itself with implementing the federal Disability Insurance Law (IV) as well as other health policy matters, including birth control. Starting in the late 1960s, the Conference began to participate in various national consultative bodies, including the Commission for Mental Handicap Issues, the Experts’ Commission for Reorganizing Swiss Health Insurance, and the Experts’ Commission for Revising Casualty Insurance. The Conference also cultivated international contacts, and at its annual conference in 1970, two legal experts gave presentations on international social law and Switzerland's pending ratification of the European Convention on Human Rights – a Convention particularly at odds with the “administrative measures” that had been taken in Switzerland.

In the 1980s, a new division of labor between the national government and the cantons gave rise to discussions in the Conference, which took the lead in introducing the Inter-cantonal Care Home Agreement that came into force in 1987. This Agreement required cantons to draft plans for their penal and correctional systems, regulated inter-cantonal financing modalities with respect to residential facilities, and made it possible for cantons to draft agreements when planning such institutions. In addition, the Conference addressed education and training policy in the social welfare sector, and continued its efforts to fight addictions. By the end of the 1980s, the focus increasingly turned to asylum issues. The Conference also discussed how to respond to the high level of unemployment in Switzerland and how to fight poverty particularly among the "working poor". It also concerned itself with the implementation of the Victim Assistance Act which had come into force in 1993.

In 2002, an inter-cantonal Agreement Regarding Social Facilities was reached, an extension of the Care Home Agreement. Additional inpatient areas, including inpatient addiction therapy facilities, were included in planning this new Agreement, which came into force in 2006. The Conference involved in evaluating and the continued development of this 2002 Agreement and took the lead in the concordat.

More recently, annual conferences have focused on care provided to relatives, developmental support for children, the labor market integration of persons applying for political asylum, and children and youth policy. The Conference has always been involved in contemporary debates about social welfare issues, and this has included participating in round table discussions focused on the victims of involuntary administrative placement measures, paternity leave, the harmonization of means-tested family social benefits, or reforms to the disability insurance scheme. In the latter case, it opposed cuts, as there would otherwise be the risk of a shift from disability insurance to the supplementary benefits scheme. The Conference has also planned specific measures to implement the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention designed to better protect women from domestic violence. Together with the Conference for Child and Adult Protection, it has formulated various recommendations for the outplacement of children.

Literatur / Bibliographie / Bibliografia / References: Meyer Markus (2006), Die interkantonale Konferenz – ein Mittel der Kantone zur Zusammenarbeit auf Regierungsebene, Bern; O. A. (2018), Jahresbericht SODK 2018. Online: https://ch-sodk.s3.amazonaws.com/media/files/2018_JB_mit_JR_f%C3%BCr_Web_d.pdf, Stand: 07.02.2021; O. A. (o.D.), Wirken der SODK, o. O. Online: https://www.sodk.ch/de/organisation/portrait/, Stand: 06.02.2021; Prot. der SODK, Jahreskonferenzen 1943, 1949, 1950, 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, 1994; Thönen Sarah (2009), Zentralisierung der bedarfsabhängigen Sozialleistungen. Vor- und Nachteile der föderalen Aufgabenteilung – mögliche Zentralisierungsmodelle, Masterarbeit, Universität Bern, Bern. Online: https://www.kpm.unibe.ch/weiterbildung/weiterbildung/projekt__und_mas_arbeiten/e234352/e234427/ThnenSarah_ger.pdf, Stand: 07.02.2021; Zürcher Ernst (2002), Grünes Licht für das Beitrittsverfahren der Kantone. Die Interkantonale Vereinbarung für soziale Einrichtungen IVSE, in: Zeitschrift für Sozialhilfe 11, 177-182. Online: https://www.e-periodica.ch/digbib/view?pid=zes-003%3A2002%3A99%3A%3A187&referrer=search#189, Stand: 07.02.2021; Zürcher Ernst (2006), Formen und Entwicklung der interkantonalen Rechtssetzung am Beispiel der Heimvereinbarung, in: LEGES 1, 93-106. Online: https://leges.weblaw.ch/dam/publicationsystem_leges/2006/1/LeGes_2006_1_93-106.pdf, Stand: 24.03.2021.