Effective social services: protecting the most vulnerable children
by Mihăi Magheru – Child Protection Officer, UNICEF Romania
Almost everyone understands what child poverty means: when children are deprived of the resources they need to grow and develop, they are living in poverty. But too often it is defined only in terms of income, which means that help often takes the sole form of financial benefits.
Benefits have played an increased role in social services and much research has gone into whether this truly alleviates poverty. All the conclusions suggest that financial support alone is not enough to take children out of poverty and a much broader approach is needed.
What do children need?
Children’s rights and needs are complex, so our approach must tackle the different elements involved. It must comprise basic social services, the social welfare, educational and health services meant to guarantee the rights of all children in Romania.
These rights include:
To achieve this, the social protection system must be geared to children’s specific needs. As well as financial help for children and families, this requires policies and laws to protect them and community services to help them overcome their problems.
Why is this necessary?
Research indicates that the same things that get households into poverty also prevent the most vulnerable from accessing the support which could get them out of it.
Poor allocation of benefits hurts vulnerable children in many ways:
All this confirms that service development must address the needs of the vulnerable more comprehensively, and in a way which can improve the benefits system.
Improvements could include informing families of their rights, educating them on how to access and manage resources, harmonising and balancing benefits with the appropriate services and making the overall system more efficient while bearing in mind that effective prevention is less expensive than protection and its impact on beneficiaries more positive.
Furthermore, basic social services should not make vulnerable people chronically dependent on the state, but reintegrate them into normal life through:
How can this approach be effective and efficient?
Strategic planning at community level requires valid information and data to be gathered, stored and used to help forecast future events, or, at least, guide the essential steps to prevent various problems.
Local cooperation (between professionals and institutions), which should be as fluent and conflict-free as possible, requires a formal institutional framework, the details of which should help everyone to understand each other’s roles.
Community based social services (the minimum package) must be designed and adjusted to people’s actual needs, its implementation capacity must be fine-tuned and it should be set out in detailed legal provisions for the benefit of those in need.
The continued disregard of the importance of prevention and basic social services both impacts the construction of the social protection system, and also deprives it of one of its essential pillars. This neglect results not only in an inefficient system, but also in one that cannot develop appropriately, as it lacks an essential ingredient: awareness of the situation and, consequently, the ability to make effective predictions.