UNICEF, Armenian government discuss integrated social services to address social inequity, poverty
© UNICEF Armenia / 2012
Prime Minister of Armenia Tigran Sargsyan, addressing participants of the conference on Integrated Social Services in Yerevan.
YEREVAN, 24 February 2012 – UNICEF and the Government of Armenia convened today a high-level conference to discuss integrated social services model as a way to reduce poverty and ensure full access of the most vulnerable families to social support and protection services.
“This conference represents a major milestone in the progress of a strategic reform which we all consider determinant for the improvement of lives of the most vulnerable families and children in Armenia,” UNICEF Representative in Armenia, Henriette Ahrens said, addressing high-level participants, including Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Labour and Social Issues of Armenia.
Armenia’s current social protection system does not fully respond to the needs of vulnerable families which vary in nature and scale. If a family faces a problem, there is no or little effort to assess the situation and identify root causes of the problem and the only solution offered by existing territorial social services is financial support for which not even all families may be entitled to.
“Our objective is to put in place a system where individuals can come to one place and receive all possible information and services they need. We need a system where social protection offices and social workers will have a comprehensive information about the needs of each vulnerable family,“ Armenia’s Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan said, addressing the conference participants.
The Prime Minister noted that the Government of Armenia has shifted its policy of provision of income for vulnerable families onto a policy of strengthening resilience of vulnerable families through building up their human capacity. Social inequity stems from two main reasons that are unemployment and inaccessibility of education, the Prime Minister stressed.
“Budgetary resources will be channelled to provide socially and economically vulnerable families with employment and quality education, “ the Prime Minister said.
Various studies demonstrate that only 10 per cent of children from vulnerable families have opportunity to continue their education in universities and other higher educational establishments as compared to 82 per cent of children from rich families. “This is one of the main reasons of social inequity. This means that it is the Government’s responsibility to fully cover costs of education for children from vulnerable families. Absence of financial resources must not be a reason for not receiving a quality higher education,” the Prime Minister emphasized.
“The model of integrated social services would help protecting and promoting fundamental human rights. It aims at reducing poverty, eliminating social exclusion of vulnerable groups and ensuring universal and equal access to social support and protection services,” UNICEF Representative said.
The new model of integrated social services tries to address family situation in a comprehensive way: not only through offering financial support, but also through mobilizing and bringing other services to needy families.
The model of integrated social services envisages introduction of a position of case managers who will be responsible for individual assessment of families, developing individual social support and protection plans for them and bringing in various services to address their needs. Case managers are the essential link among existing services and informal resources with the family in need, and aim at strengthening the capacity of families to deal with their vulnerabilities without increasing the costs for the community.
In Armenia case management as a pilot has been introduced in 2011 with support from UNICEF in 6 territorial social services. The case studies produced during the pilot phase have allowed providing recommendation for the mainstreaming of the reform, which the Government intends to approve within 2012.
Another essential component of integrated social services is the definition of territorial social plans, based on the specific needs of a territory. Territorial social plans have already been developed for Lori and Tavoush provinces of Armenia, with the support of UNICEF and in cooperation with the Ministry of Territorial Administration. Such plans would allow to re-orient provision of services to the most vulnerable groups living in those communities and create new specific services based on community needs identified, with the contribution of all the social actors (public administrations, services, NGOs, volunteer groups etc).
“Now we need to build on our partnerships; for we cannot achieve any of our goals without them. We need to work in ever-closer coordination with government partners, policy makers and donors, with our sister UN agencies and with civil society and community representatives themselves. We have had very encouraging bilateral discussions with many government officials, bilateral partners, NGOs and donors about the best way to enhance social protection in Armenia. The pilot experience shows that we can make a difference. Our partnerships and coordination can help us become more effective,” UNICEF Representative emphasized.