A ‘young’ country on the move

Country Programme 2006-2010

The new UNICEF representative in Albania

Related information on the Convention on the Rights of the Child


Mr Palm's speech during the national conference on "Social Care and Protection for People with Disability" organized by Caritas on 17 June 2014

I think those gathered here are quite united in the main points of our analysis of what needs to be done to assist those that need a little more consideration than others. Legislation is improving and some good legislation already exists, though often the exact procedures and entitlements are not clear. Most of us are quite confident that - given the current reform climate and the leadership of the Ministry of Social Welfare and Youth - there is a huge opportunity to make progress.

First, we need to get the numbers right. 74,000 people are registered as eligible for disability allowance. To be registered involves a medical assessment and has its historic rational in the fact that such a person would not be able to find a job. People with mild or moderate disabilities would not be considered eligible for cash assistance, and hence not appear in the statistics. So the numbers are much higher. Many of them would need a little more assistance, for instance in school; some technological aid; or other consideration such as transport assistance. If we don’t have data, we can’t get it right.

UNICEF supported a baseline study on children with disabilities; we are presently discussing the preliminary results. One finding, for instance, shows that children with disability in rural areas are much more likely to go to school than children with disabilities in towns. Why this. We have to find out.

But I am most concerned that often we refer to people living with disabilities as a homogenous group – somehow implying that one solution will solve everyone’s issues. But a child with a hearing issue has completely different needs than an adult with a memory problem, and someone with limited mobility can expect different assistance than someone who cannot see.

Most disabilities are defined as a medical condition, a condition for which there is no treatment. But the exclusion suffered by people with disabilities is not because of the medical conditions, but because society that fails to accommodate their particular situation. A person might have a problem walking – but it is not really a problem until he finds a staircase too steep to climb.

Different persons with a disability need different responses not in terms of medical treatment but from the services around them, the extra hand in the family, the institutions, or the public – the social environment. We expect a social worker to identify services or link the individual with others who can help. A disability allowance alone is not enough, if that money cannot buy the needed service. But to organize such services, municipalities and authorities need to know and understand the numbers, conditions and the needs and possibilities for people with disabilities. This is the job of a social worker – not the subject of endless surveys.

The discussion is moving away from institutional care towards community and family based care; this is very good. Each person should have the option to live independently or within a family. It provides dignity, acceptance, respect and inclusion. Again, a skilled social worker is needed to judge that the conditions are right, and that people receive the protection and support they need.

I like to suggest that self-help schemes become a more regular channel for state support. There is often assumption that the state has to provide everything; or a church or a donor funded NGO. We have met many self-help groups – for instance groups of parents of children with autism or down syndrome.  With the disability grant they can organize regular activity for their children with families in similar conditions – but this is often not enough. Self-help groups may need occasional specialized teaching help, or certain one-time investments. Criteria can be set up. To support such self-help groups – and movements – is probably not only the most cost-effective, but also most effective solution for people with disabilities and their families to live a regular life.

One finding of our earlier mentioned survey struck me tremendously. It said that many professionals, often medical professionals, display an attitude of hopelessness; they have no hope that a child’s situation can change. Of course, they may not be able to give sight to the blind, but they look at the medical condition, not at the possibilities. They may not discuss what the family, community or authorities can do to overcome the barriers to inclusion. We – the professionals, activists, media need to send the signal of hope and that people with disability are welcome and appreciated members of the community.

The Ministry is reforming the organization of social care services. We are assisting this. We hope that an outcome will be a statutory social worker in each significant municipality or commune, who knows the extent where special assistance is needed. The social workers conduct outreach, they know what is going in the community. They follow up on cases so that all what can be done will be done. We propose that a portion of the social protection budget will be allocated for the procurement of or subsidies for social services.  Money will never be enough, but prioritization by the respective planning bodies should be based on what the social workers know, and national priorities as identified by the Minister for Social Welfare.

Nobody can expect the Ministry of Social Welfare to pay the entire bill. To make schools accessible and provide assistant teachers for those with learning difficulty should be paid for by the education budget. To allow a person with limited mobility to ride free on a public bus doesn’t cost anything extra, but shows political will. Every sector must contribute and be inclusive.



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