Supporting social workers to strengthen assistance for families in vulnerable situations
600 social workers from the Unified Social Service complete introductory and targeted training.
For over a decade UNICEF has supported the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs in developing the integrated social services system in Armenia to assess and respond to the complex needs in vulnerable families. Based on these needs, an integrated and complex package of support was offered to families in need trying to help them overcome difficult situations in life. In April 2021, the Unified Office for Public Services was founded, giving a new momentum to social security reform. Hence in 2022, a particular emphasis was placed on the training of social workers, which was carried out in two directions: a targeted training course for professional social workers and an introductory social work course for general staff.
“More than 600 social workers from 49 Unified Social Service regional centers participated in the introductory courses and targeted training. About 100 administrators and over 300 reception staff were trained. We not only targeted social workers but also center directors and employment and reception staff, so that they too could learn of the reforms that are underway. They were also given the opportunity to learn about how to better assist families in difficult life circumstances,”
According to her, social workers are the first line of professionals who deal with children and families in vulnerable situations. It is they who identify, assess, and determine people's needs; it is through them that services and support are provided to these families. “We are hopeful and confident that the training will help for this support to become more professional and efficient,” Hovakimyan added.
Naira Hakobyan, a senior social worker at the Amasia Unified Social Service regional center, says that thanks to the courses, they are able to implement their work with a new methodology and tools.
“Reading something or knowing something in theory is one thing; it's different when you can communicate with an expert, when you can ask questions about what you've learned, and get answers with real-world examples. The knowledge you receive is on a whole other level. The training is planned in such a way that all workers can participate,” Hakobyan explains.
“After reading all the material, learning from all these experts, and gaining all this knowledge, our work with the beneficiaries will become much smoother. Perhaps we made some mistakes in the past or didn't work as effectively as possible. Now we know the right way; we're grateful for this opportunity. It's not always easy getting this kind of education while working full time in Armenia. It worked out, though, because the training was free and accessible,”
According to Abgaryan, her approach to work has changed since receiving the training. “I understand and share the beneficiaries' concerns and I often brought that concern home with me. After taking the course, I learned that those issues must stay at the workplace. This way, we can avoid burnout and carry our difficult work more professionally,” Abgaryan says.
The Unified Social Service was established in Armenia on April 1, 2021, based on the one window, one office principle. “The Unified Social Service was created with its 49 regional centers. It is part of the Ministry and includes four principal types of social protection: social security (the payment of pensions), social support (benefits and various services), assessment of function, and the implementation of active employment programs,” Armenuhi Hovakimyan notes.
“We are still restructuring. The aim of the partnership between UNICEF, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, Unified Social Services and the National Institute for Labor and Social Research is to train and develop the capacities of Unified Social Service workers,” Vanand Karapetyan, the Director of the National Institute of Labor and Social Research explains. According to the Law on Social Assistance, social work can be carried out by people with higher education in social work or those who have specialized in another field but have worked in social work in the last year and have passed a special training course. “Thanks to the special social work training course jointly implemented with UNICEF, 79 participants received social worker certificates,” Karapetyan says.
The course had three components: the theoretical component consisted of 22 topics over 234 academic hours. This was followed by a practical component, which comprises supervision training, where participants took part in online and face-to-face meetings and case discussions with practice managers. The final component is a knowledge assessment, after which participants receive graduation certificates.
Edgar Bznuni, a senior social worker at the Artik regional center, participated in the introductory courses and received special training. He believes it is important that people update their knowledge and skills and that such courses are the perfect way to do so.
“All the regional center social workers were retrained and completed specializations. This will help solve beneficiaries’ problems more efficiently. People’s issues are diverse, and folks facing various difficult situations turn to the Unified Social Service,”
Ani Chilingaryan, Deputy Head of the Unified Social Service, says that one of the preconditions for creating the service was implementing a training program for the staff and focusing on hiring experts.
“This joint work with UNICEF, which was implemented with the efforts of the Ministry and the Institute, was a great contribution to the development of professional capacities of service employees. The employees had the opportunity to participate in the special course for free and received certificates,”
“This stage of training is one of the important components of completely transforming the social service system. That being said, there is still a lot to do. We are currently revising the social assistance law with the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and developing a strategy for the development of integrated social services,” Armenuhi Hovakimyan says.
UNICEF will continue its work to support integrated social services in Armenia so that families in difficult life circumstances receive the support they need in a timely way.
This initiative was financed within the "Improving Human Security in Armenian Communities" project, which is jointly implemented by six UN structures and funded by the UN Human Security Fund.