Mr Palm's speech during the workshop on "Proposals on decentralization of social interventions" on 24 October 2012
Next to the Social Assistance, usually administered in the form of cash assistance or Ndihma Ekonomike, disability grants, or pensions, Social Services constitute the backbone of any social protection system.
We congratulate the Ministry of Social Affairs for having started and continuing the reform of this important sector. Too often, the assistance to those who no longer can help themselves has been left to chance, depending on the readiness and goodwill of NGOs or donors, and sometimes faith-based organizations. The large network of social workers were mainly busy as social administrators, administering the Ndihma Ekonomike or other grants. Most of them did not consider themselves able or authorized to intervene with families plagued by domestic violence, child abuse, or addiction problems. Many were unable to organize assistance for elderly people, or those with disability who would be in need of counselling or specialized services. Resources were primarily for cash assistance and residential care institutions.
The Social Service reform is meant to address this gap, and to introduce a more systematic approach to ensure those that need help from the state will get it. For instance, there is now a good understanding that community or family based solutions are not only more cost-effective than residential care institutions, but they are also the better solutions for those that need help.
For instance, children without parental care are better looked after by a foster family, than being kept in an orphanage. We very much applaud the amendments to the law on social assistance for foster parents as a major step in the right direction – and it is also likely to save a lot of money.
But I also want to caution against considering the reform of social services primarily as a way to cut costs. Investments into social protection help to empower those that very much lost control over their fate. Social protection will help to generate a more equitable society, which we know is better for everyone.
The task at hand is considerable. We need a new profile of what we call a “social worker”, we need new job descriptions and skills set. We need to more professionalize social work. We need to define the right level of accountability at central, regional and local levels. And we need to engineer a sustainable flow of resources so that the minimum package of social service can be financed on a sustainable basis. Most social services may be outsourced at some point, but this needs to be regulated and service standards defined.
The examples and experience from the regions, supported by the Italian cooperation and Regione Emilia Romagna will go a long way in helping to shape the future of social services in Albania. On behalf of many development partners, we look forward to learning the lessons and recommendations coming from this conference.