The following policy brief was drawn up jointly by the Social Workers’ Associations in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia as well as the Nursing Association of Moldova, stemming from their regional exchange and practical experience gained in the frame of the EU-funded project “Social Workers in Collaboration for Social Change” (2015 – 2018).
In the last 20-30 years, the Eastern Partnership countries are in the process of systemic changes due to crisis situations (collapse of Soviet Union, economic crisis, blockade and war). This phenomenon weakened families and increased the number of distance families in the respective countries (migration, unemployment, poverty, etc.). Despite these problems, structured family support services have been largely missing in the region. Emergency responses have been the main approaches in each of those countries to mitigate the afore-mentioned crisis, which was not further transferred into a structured model for family support.
Only fragmental developments took place in the social protection sector so far and not enough importance has been given to prevention and early intervention to family strengthening and family preservation by the governments and by donors. The lack of a holistic approach deepened even more the vulnerability of families and created dependency of families on (monetary) support programs.
The official data for instance shows that every third child in Armenia is suffering due to child poverty, while almost 90% of recipients of family poverty benefit are families with children. Every fourth child in Armenia is deprived of possibility for cognitive development due to lack of pre-school and after-school accessibility, vocational programs, etc.). In Georgia poverty rates are higher in households with children. In 2017, 33% of all households included at least one child and poverty rate increases in line with the increase in number of children in the household. In 2017 the percentage of children living in poor households increased from 26.8% to 31.6%. Due to absence of kindergartens, around 14 000 children do not attend preschool services. Only 57.7% in the poorest fifth of the households attended kindergarten which is almost 7% lower that of the richest fifth of households. School attendance in mandatory education is 97%, however, every fifth poor child aged 15-18 is no longer involved in education.
In Azerbaijan about 10.000 children are still in state run institutions. These children are considered as “social orphans” as most of them have one or two parents. Around 400 juveniles who conflict with the law are registered each year in Azerbaijan. The cases of “early/ child marriages” i.e. marriage of a person under of age of 18 is yet another issue in the country. In 2017 the coverage of children with preschool educational institutions (as % to total number of children at age of 1-5 years) is only 13.8 % with 21 % in urban area and 6.7 % in rural area respectively.
Even though communities are mandated to create local services and directly support the families, most of these communities lack relevant professional and financial resources. The few community services existing to date are either centralized or initiated externally mostly by charity organizations, non-governmental organizations or private donors. However, many of these services tend to be ineffective, because they were designed without participation of local communities and inter-relation with other programmes. Hence, most communities did not take the ownership of local social services yet.
In addition, the lack of inter-sectorial cooperation between the various actors involved in the family protection field led to an unbalanced allocation of family support services on community, province and national levels. As the result, families that already benefit from the state system tend to be “over-included”, while other vulnerable groups are “under-included” in the frame of these services.
Finally, professional social work with its focus on empowerment to self-reliance is still not widely or not properly used in the countries, neglecting the importance of prevention and early intervention to make vulnerable families lead self-reliant sustainable lives, which is more cost-effective for the social system in the long run.
Strategies to address the problem:
Studies and practical experience gained by the Associations of Social Workers in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia and by the Nursing Association of Moldova over the last years and especially in the frame of the EU-funded project “Social Workers in Collaboration for Social Change” (2015 – 2018) on the situation of vulnerable families proved afore-listed problems. As a follow up to this experience, a number of preventive and family strengthening community-based models have been elaborated and piloted by the Associations in several regions of Armenia, Georgia and Moldova. The piloted models aimed at developing family preservation services through establishment of child and family support centers, psycho-social mobile services as well as strengthening of inter-sectorial collaboration among key actors in support of families.
The following lessons have been revealed out of all piloted models:
- Community-based services are the closest to both families and children, possessing specific local, sub-cultural know-how, and are potentially more effective than purely centrally managed programs not applying participatory approaches in the design and implementation phases.
- Capacity building of local CSOs and stakeholders on social work knowledge and techniques increased the effectiveness of their work and allowed them to better respond to the needs of vulnerable families.
- The piloted cooperation among different sectors (e.g. schools, kindergartens, police, local CSOs, local municipalities) allowed to critically consider and reflect on existing working culture and increase mutual trust and ownership of cases.
- Furthermore, inter-sectorial cooperation on horizontal levels tends to be more cost-effective by more efficiently using available resources and synergies.
- The applied models allowed beneficiary-families to take the control of their own lives and transform from “passive recipients” into co-partners, thus reducing their dependency on social projects and support.
- Cooperation among governmental, private and non-governmental organizations allows for new and innovative forms of social services.
Based on these lessons learned, the undersigned recommend to governments and key actors of the relevant fields to undertake the following steps:
- Decentralize social services: create province/marz level/regional social service agencies with relevant funding to coordinate social services provided by state and non-state services.
- Introduce a clear mandate and standard operation procedures for multi-disciplinary, inter-sectorial and inter-agency cooperation on local, regional and national level based on the needs of children and families.
- Enhance CSO social contracting and introduce transparent and clear mechanisms for selecting, funding and controlling CSOs.
- Introduce referral mechanisms with clear mandate/role of each actor in family preservation.
- Introduce minimum standards of service provision in the frame of family strengthening and protection (positive parenting, prevention of school dropouts, prevention of school and family violence, ensure need-based service enrollment, etc.).
- Increase preventive and early intervention programs and service offers for vulnerable families.
- Ensure participatory development of local social plans through involvement of service users, professionals.
- Create possibilities for exchanging best practices and piloted models in the region.
- Establish community-based, viable social services in particular areas (e.g. for families living below the poverty line, migrant families; families with many children, families with a disabled member etc.).
- Introduce and apply professional social work techniques on local, regional and national level for better targeted and sustainable support to vulnerable families and effective inter-sectorial collaboration.
- Professionalization of services: Ensure that staff working with vulnerable families has necessary professional skills and knowledge and build capacity of state and non-state services providers through continuous education on social work (on-the job training, mentoring, coaching) with families.
- Improve working conditions for professionals (number of caseloads, transportation/communication reimbursement, access to regular supervision and coaching).
- Consider local resources (CSOs) in designing of social support programs.
- Ensure investments to realize introduced standards and procedures and for continuous capacity building of local specialists.
- Align designed projects with the existing reform strategies and local social plans.
- Continue investments towards enhancement of community-based networks of social services considering their preventive nature.
- Activate/improve donor-government-CSO consultation meetings to address cross-cutting issues.
- Consolidate the resources of donor community: church, diaspora, international agencies and private donors.
This statement is accepted and supported by:
Armenian Association of Social Workers
Azerbaijan Social Work Public Union
Georgian Association of Social Workers
Nursing Association of Moldova
 One of family members emigrates to other countries in the search of job.
 Families who are involved in state family benefit system and receive monthly allowances.
 UNICEF (2017). Welfare Monitoring Survey
 UNICEF (2015) Children by the numbers
 AZSTAT, 2017