Mr Palm's address on the Conference on Social Services Reform in Tirana on 23 and 24 November 2010
Conference on Social Services Reform in Tirana organized by the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities in collaboration with UNICEF and Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC)
I like to thank the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunity for calling this conference. I am sure it will be a very productive conference. I really feel humbled by the collective experience of so many practitioners and exerts.
Albania has made very good progress over the recent years. Economic growth has been positive when much bigger countries had to take cuts. Albania is now an upper middle income country. Poverty has been reduced. A friend and I recently agreed that Albania is dynamic; there is always room for change, and people are ready to put efforts into the future.
But economic growth alone does not solve all development issues. Fast economic growth can create imbalances and inequity. If the rich become rich faster than the poor come out of poverty, the gap between the rich and the poor widens. Social cohesion gets lost. Social problems will increase.
Albania's social protection strategy is a good strategy. It realizes that there will be people who can no longer help themselves. The strategy differentiates between social assistance and social care. Some people simply need financial assistance. Others need somebody to protect them from violence, or someone who will help them to find a job when coming out of prison. Some have special learning needs, or need help to overcome their addiction to drugs. Some children have to be protected from neglect or abuse. This is what we refer to as social care or social services.
At present many social services are provided randomly. Sometimes a municipality provides a service, sometimes a private institution or a civil society organization. All such services are good and need to continue. The problem is that services may not always be there where the need is the greatest.
Imagine to be a child that has been neglected by parents and roams the streets. Imagine to be a teenager who receives disability allowance but still doesn’t have a place in school. Imagine an abused wife. How do they know what services exist? And does somebody care about them?
Often, one social problem causes the next. Alcohol abuse may cause a husband to beat his wife; because of the terror at home the child stops going to school; the child meets bad company and may be drawn into crime; and so the trouble continues. The same family may need help from many sources. Services need to be integrated.
In our view, there has to be one place that shoulders the responsibility to help these families and individuals. One office that knows who needs help, and connects them to the institutions that offer help. One office, that follows up and ensure that the child, the woman, or the family receive support. Most likely, this office will be in local government.
Let me now try to frame the questions that we are trying to address together in this conference, and in the working groups.
First. What are the respective roles of local and central government to ensure services are available to those in need? If we decide here, at the central level, how can we make sure it will happen in all municipalities and communes? What laws, or what institutions need to be created, and what is their respective role?
Second. Many services will be available through private providers, or civil society. What should be outsourced, and what should be provided by government? How do private and public institutions cooperate, in the most effective and efficient manner? How can good quality services be assured?
Third. How is this all going to be financed? Some services (say day-care for children) may charge fees, but how to help poor families to participate without having to pay? If government pays private institutions to provide a service, what are easy procedures that ensure value for money?
Fourth. I mentioned the office in local government - most likely from the State Social Services - that has to identify those in need, and connect them to the school, health facility, police, lawyers, or other institutions, and monitors and follows up that things are taken care of. What are education, training, skills or experiences needed for such staff to do their work well?
Fifth. How can we communicate or publicize the need for more comprehensive social services? How can we convince the tax payers that money is well spent on social services? How can we encourage local politicians to put the need for good quality social services on the agenda of their council meetings? And how can we publicise the availability of the services and entitlement to those who need it most?
I know there is an immensely rich experience in this room, and I am sure that together we will come up with some good answers to some of these issues.