How a new app streamlines care for vulnerable families in Romania
A new tablet application helps provide social services by maintaining up-to-date information on families and children
Social workers in Romania are now using a new tablet application called Aurora to maintain up-to-date information on the families and children with whom they work. Learn how one family of seven is benefiting from these social services.
MOINEȘTI, Romania, 13 January 2017 – In a clearing in front of a large apartment block, children busily roam around in the sun, like birds at the crack of spring. The older ones hold the youngest and wait for their turn to jump rope. School bags have been abandoned for the day.
Inside the building, five sisters gather in a one bedroom apartment for their own game of jump rope. The main room is sparsely furnished with clean wooden floors, giving it the look of a ballet studio as the eldest three girls jump about.
The sisters, who range in age from 12 to just over 1 year, moved to the building with their parents just four months ago, after their house burned down.
“[It started] from the fridge… in a second we lost all we had amassed in 17 years,” says Ioan Ferenz, the girls’ father. The whole family had been living with his parents in a one room house and they were all there when it happened.
After the fire, the Ferenzes were given social housing: a one bedroom apartment with a bath and a kitchen. They are still getting used to the large open space. With their few remaining belongings, every noise echoes off the empty walls.
“It’s not how it used to be, everything had its place…,” says Loredana, Ioan’s wife and mother to the five girls. In every room, there are mattresses on the floor, a cabinet and suitcases. In the hallway, Loredana pinned a white lace curtain to the main beam. The good carpet went to the largest room.
Ioan is a welder and works daily jobs in construction, but lately it’s been tougher to get work. Loredana is a homemaker. She washes everything by hand, cooks and takes care of the girls. “We live from one allowance,” says Ioan, choosing his words carefully. It’s difficult to find courage and determination in the face of so many hardships.
“The family lives on social aid,” says Adela Fodor, head of the social services department in Moinești. “[Here] the intervention was in healthcare, and we will continue with the investigations.” She is referring to Alina, the eldest daughter, who is anaemic and is undergoing testing for leukemia. Her sisters were given vaccines according to their ages.
Adela is tall with a soft gaze. She speaks kindly, but never promises what she is not certain she can deliver. She supervises the areas surrounding two schools in Moinești, comprising more than 21,500 people. “These areas are the highest in number of people living on social aid,” she says.
Together with her team, Adela has visited 1,871 families since September, when the Community Services for Children programme started in Moinești. The programme is financed by UNICEF and operates in 38 communities in the county of Bacău in Romania.
When her team met Loredana and Ioan, they immediately saw that their home was not a healthy environment to raise children. She spoke to them and took notes into a tablet app called Aurora. The app helps social workers keep all the information on one family in one place, saving all data in a system that can be accessed by the entire team. Social workers previously took notes on paper and would need extra time to type everything into their computers when they returned to the office. Now they can save time by updating files on the go.
The app also comes with a thorough questionnaire, and alerts users when conclusions can be drawn. It was Aurora that pointed out that Loredana and Ioan are eligible for social housing and that the girls needed vaccines.
Maybe because she has such a heavy caseload, Adela is preoccupied with how well her team serves the community. “It takes a certain way of being, not selfish… You cannot really say, ‘This is what I needed to do, now it’s done and over with.’ There’s a constant concern for what else might be needed.”
After eight years of doing social work in Moinești, her genuine concern for the families she serves is still evident. “It’s not the social services studies that guarantee excellence. The human quality makes the difference,” she says.
And she is always thinking of what else the Ferenz girls might need.
“What do you wish for the girls?” we ask Loredana and Ioan as we are about to walk out. They both hesitate. With needs that are so immediate, it is harder think about the future than the present.
“To be healthy! For the rest, God willing!” they reply.
Making sure the girls stay healthy and have what they need to survive is part of the job for people like Adela: managing social aid files and referrals to schools and medical professionals. People like Adela see things that parents overwhelmed by destitution and grief might miss. They bring counsel, support and certainty beyond next week.
The Minimum Package of Services the Ferenz family receives is available to all families, but was created for the most vulnerable children and their families in particular. The services include healthcare, social protection and education that could prevent, at a fraction of the cost, many of the issues that generally affect these families: separating children from their parents, lack of minimum welfare payments, violence, early pregnancies, illness, school dropout or absenteeism. For these services to reach all families like Loredana and Ioan’s, a social worker, a community nurse and a school counsellor must exist in every community in Romania.
UNICEF in Romania is currently testing this Minimum Package of Services model in 45 communities in the county of Bacău, with financial support from Norway Grants, UNICEF and the private sector. The pilot model is independently evaluated, and the results are shared with decision-makers to develop new legislation, norms and standards and to mobilize state and European funding for national implementation and scaling throughout the country. The pilot aims to ensure that all children in Romania will be more protected, healthy and educated.