"Voice of the most vulnerable": Social workers receive a boost through UNICEF-supported training
By Ina Prisacaru
CHISINAU, Moldova, 26 June 2008 – Around 500 community social workers from Moldova participated in a 5-day training session in the country’s capital Chisinau. Conducted by the Ministry of Social Protection, Family and Child and UNICEF, the workshop brought together such a large group of social workers for the first time, addressing the urgent need to prevent and respond to violence against children.
Deeply rooted traditions, such as beating and verbal abuse when it comes to discipline children, are commonly used by many Moldovan parents. Research has shown that an estimated 25 per cent of children in the country suffered beating by their own parents, while 13 per cent of pupils received same punishment from their teachers. The need to find a better work for the parents has resulted in more than 177,000 Moldovan children being left behind. Without the care of their primary caregivers, many children live in boarding schools and orphanages, making them even more vulnerable to violence and abuse.
In 2007, the Ministry of Social Protection, Family and Child decided to recruit social workers. For many, this is a revolutionary decision. Prior to that, social services that address violence against children had barely existed. For the social workers, trainings are crucial to help them understand how to act professionally when faced with a particular case.
“I listen very attentively to every word said by foreign and national experts and cross-check if I did the same for people I helped,” said Angela Niculita, a social worker in Boghiceni village, Hancesti district. “Now I see that my actions were correct and I am happy about that.” Ms. Niculita has been working as a social worker for only 3 months. Before, she was a medical doctor and has a degree in medicine. “I used to save people from physical illnesses, now I’m saving them from social illnesses,” she said about her career change.
“I was born to be a social worker”
Ludmila Zdragus was a 4th year student at the Biotechnology Department of the Agricultural University, when she learnt about the recruitment opportunities for social workers. She applied and was accepted. The same year, she gave up agricultural studies and enrolled in the Social Assistance Department. Many of the community social workers like Ludmila are now studying here to get more knowledge and understanding of their new profession.
“I do not regret that I have lost four years. Instead, I got a job that I adore,” said Ludmila. “You may find it difficult to believe, but I believe that I was born to be a social worker.” Working in Stefanesti village, Floresti district, Ludmila once successfully convinced a father to stop beating his wife and his two children.
Because of the limited resources, most of the social workers are poorly paid. And yet, their enthusiasm has never let up. Veronica Gandea makes about 60 USD per month, and she has three children to support. “I do not want to complain,” she said. “Because I do my job with pleasure and dedication.”
At the training workshop, government officials stated that improving the working conditions for the social workers has been one of their priorities. “I understand that you have a very responsible and difficult mission,” said Galina Balmos, Minister of Social Protection, Family and Child, “We do our best to provide better conditions for you, and we have already submitted a draft to the Government on increasing the salaries of social workers.”
According to the Government’s initiative launched in 2007, there should be at least one social worker in every mayor’s office. Today, the network of social workers includes 850 specialists, and the number is expected to rapidly increase. However, the demand is far greater. Ideally, the average number of beneficiaries per social worker should be around 3,000. But in Moldova, social workers are seriously overwhelmed – in some areas, one social worker is responsible for a community of some 6,000 people.
UNICEF Representative in Moldova, Ray Virgilio Torres assured the social workers that UNICEF will continue assisting them and providing support. “The way UNICEF sees the work of social workers is very simple – you must be the voice of the most vulnerable citizens of the Republic of Moldova,” noted Mr. Virgilio. “You must be the eyes of the entire society, because you make disadvantaged people visible to society.”
For for information, please contact:
(PDF documents require Acrobat Reader to view.)