Community Based Services
© UNICEF Romania/ Giacomo Pirozzi/ Learning to play together: Community Based Services involve all stakeholders in the life of children and their families
The economic crisis in Romania has plunged an increasing number of families and children into poverty, while at the same time seriously weakening the ability of the State to cope with the increased demand for services coming from the poorest sector of the population. In the north-east of the country, the absolute poverty rate in rural areas increased from 8.9% in 2009 to 12.4% in 2010.
As a result, the child protection system is under immense strain due, on the one hand, to the pressure exerted by families and children in distress and, on the other hand, due to government cutbacks to reduce the budget deficit. At the same time, adjustments and reforms in the social assistance system have mainly targeted financial benefits, while basic social services, including prevention, have been overlooked, mainly because of their lacking.
The Community Based Services (CBS) project attempts to contribute to a shift from over- reliance on state protection for children towards a more efficient system of prevention. It aims to strengthen the capacity of local public authorities to identify and respond promptly and efficiently to the risks and vulnerabilities encountered by deprived children and their families.
© UNICEF Romania/ Raluca Manta/ Even when conditions are tough, Community Based Services should provide a safety net for the most needy
The project was designed in partnership with the Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Protection / General Direction forChild Protection within the framework of the National Strategy for the Promotion and Protection of Children’s Rights. The first phase of the CBS took place in 2011 in 96 deprived communities from the 8 disadvantaged north-eastern counties of Suceava, Botosani, Iasi, Neamt, Vaslui, Bacau, Buzau and Vrancea.
The identification of the most vulnerable children and their families and the provision of effective services was carried out through the employment of social workers by the mayoralties to perform outreach and needs assessment, support, counselling and facilitating access to social assistance rights, and also through the engagement of schoolteachers, medical doctors, police, priests, community nurses, Roma health mediators and the community at large.
The strategy incorporated an evaluation of the project to determine what changes had taken place as well as to produce evidence for the development of quality and cost standards for prevention services at community level and as a basis for advocacy for special state budgetary allocations to sustain and expand these services.
Progress and results achieved:
An evaluation carried out by CERME a research centre, showed that after 6 months of implementation nearly 111,300 households were visited and 2.7% of children were identified as invisible to social assistance, health and/or education services. Bearing in mind that approximately 1.6% of all children in Romania are in the protection system, it can be said that the ‘invisible’ children constitute a hidden but potentially high pressure on the system in the absence of prevention solutions. After only 6 months of implementation, solutions were already identified for 11% of the “invisible” children.
Lessons Learned included the following:
- A shift from protection to prevention increases equity for children. Outreach work, needs assessment and early identification and intervention maximises the equity impact on children.
- Prevention is more efficient than protection. The evaluation calculated that the cost of basic services provided by a social worker to keep a child in the family was approximately one-third the cost of providing specialised day-care services in the protection system, and one-tenth the cost of providing residential care. This provides solid proof of the financial viability and scope for expansion of the prevention approach.
- Knowledge, attitudes and practices in the community must be addressed. Addressing the causes of risks and vulnerabilities, especially linked to knowledge, attitudes and practices which tolerate various forms of violence, low levels of community participation, and fatalistic attitudes need long term, sustained and multidisciplinary intervention using appropriate communication techniques.
- Importance of cross-sectoral intervention. The level of success of social assistance at community level depends very much on collaboration and coordination at horizontal level among local actors from various sectors, and at vertical level, between authorities with different levels of responsibility, accountability and expertise.
In order to expand and sustain the CBS approach, the next steps will:
- Continue to maximise equity for children through shifting from identification of invisible children and assessment of their needs to provision of basic services with a solid baseline for future evaluation;
- Strengthen national policy in the area of prevention of risks related to child separation and violence against children through budgetary allocations based on new quality and cost standards;
- Scale up at national level provision of prevention services at community level starting with the 2013 budget, based on a financial impact analysis of a shift from protection to prevention;
- Enhance community mobilisation and address practices which tolerate inaction various forms of violence against children.
capacity building of community consultative structures and community mobilisation;