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Community social services supplied by town halls - A professional’s view

by Codruţa Eugenia Codău – Principal Inspector, Social Worker with the Public Social Assistance Service (SPAS), Sibiu

Since 1997, Romania’s social welfare and protection services have undergone huge changes, starting with the reform  of the child protection system. Children began to be valued as individuals with rights, including support for their harmonious development, growth and education in an environment as close as possible to a warm family home.

First, the care system was upgraded. The capacity of placement centres was reduced, foster homes set up and the focus put on keeping children in a family environment, either with relatives or in foster care.

The crucial role played by the family and community in raising well adjusted children, fully integrated in society, cannot be underestimated. Since 2001, the priority has been to prevent institutionalisation and organise community services and social benefits for vulnerable families, single mothers, women and girls at risk of abandoning small children, children at risk of abuse and neglect and disabled children. To this end, a private system of associations and foundations has been developed in parallel with the state system to bring additional money into play.

At the same time, newly established public services at local level – run either independently or in partnership with other public or private social services deliverers – are playing a greater role. Funded either from grants or by the state, they include social, legal and psychological advice, day centres, counselling, therapy and recovery and personal carers for people with severe disabilities. The focus is keeping children with their families and out of institutions.

Drawing on my 13 years of professional expertise as a social worker within the DGASPC Sibiu, I believe the strengths and weaknesses of the prevention system in local communities can be broken down as follows:


 

• Social services have been organised from an institutional point of view and address various beneficiaries, but need more space, IT and human resources;
• Some community social services are very effective, but they are insufficient and cannot meet the needs of children in vulnerable families living in certain risk areas (Eurostat data made public in January this year indicates that one in three children in Romania lives below the poverty line, with severe repercussions for their development);
• There are too few professionals in these services, because the salaries and motivation are too low; they do not get continuous training because of the expense;
• EU structural funds have improved the current social services infrastructure, but have not funded the establishment of new services in neighbourhoods beset by poverty, delinquency, violence, school dropout and family abandonment, and where young people need good information and advice;
• In recent years there has been an emphasis on partnerships between local social services and private suppliers or other educational and healthcare institutions; this means that current community resources can be used efficiently and effectively to avoid making beneficiaries dependent on social services and the overlapping of these services.

Social services manage several benefits. For various reasons, the number of claimants has greatly increased in recent years, creating a drain on state and local budgets. Claimants now rely on the benefits system as it has never been accompanied by programmes to ensure its efficiency and effectiveness, such as:
• Information and advice on benefit entitlement and other forms of support as well as family money management;
• Parenting, healthcare and sex education;
• Educating young parents through literacy courses;
• School education adjusted to the needs of vulnerable groups.

Successful social services at local level depend on an adequate budget, both locally and nationally, plus well trained human resources, especially social workers. Additionally, the development of community social services could reduce the burden on the special protection system and the benefits bill, if budgetary allocations get new eligibility requirements.

Family must be at the centre of all social services. Only through the empowerment of the family, with the support of professionals, to identify and help solve all the problems, whether domestic, educational, social or financial, can a child feel complete, valued and well integrated in the community. Only this way can a child have a true understanding of what a family means, what it is to grow up with a mother, father, siblings and grandparents, with emotional support and assistance to overcome the inevitable trials of daily living, and to develop a well adjusted personality that can cope with life’s challenges.

 

 
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