Social Services Conference in Romania

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The 4th international social services conference in Romania took place on 27-28 May in Cluj-Napoca, organised by the Social Services and Health Directorate (DASM) of Cluj-Napoca in cooperation with the European Social Network (ESN). This year’s theme was ‘Partnerships in developing community social services, the event providing a wide range of interesting presentations, discussions and workshops which highlighted successful partnerships in social services – local and international, cross-sectoral and cross-disciplinary projects. Opening the conference together with Cluj-Napoca Mayor Emil Boc, ESN’s Vice Chair Christian Fillet emphasised: “In our work of protecting and supporting the most vulnerable people in our society, especially in times of austerity, we cannot rely on one-sided solutions anymore. When different actors from social services, NGOs and the private sector work together towards a common goal, they contribute to a more active and caring community.”

The event, which brought together 160 delegates from Romania and abroad, opened the discussions from a European perspective by looking at international partnerships, such as the collaboration between Municipality of Cluj-Napoca and Open Society Foundation, United Nations Development Fund and the European Social Network. The European dimension was further emphasised by Septimia Dobrescu from the European Commission in a presentation on the EU funds and initiatives available to Member States for social reforms, including the Social Investment Package, Youth Guarantee Schemes, and the European Social Fund. The presentation also highlighted some of the challenges and opportunities for Romania to improve efficiency and effectiveness in utilising European funds, particularly in the areas of employment, access to quality education and healthcare services, and social inclusion for young people and disadvantaged groups.

Furthermore, the conference explored some of the challenges facing social services in Romania. In 2005 the Romanian government approved the National Strategy for the Development of Social Services to consolidate social cohesion and encourage solidarity with the most vulnerable groups in the community. However, delegates highlighted that there remain challenges for social services to develop a system of needs assessment which allows for an individual rather than a service-led response to care needs. Improving efficiency and decreasing bureaucracy was also a key point for discussions, as participants argued that less paperwork meant social workers have more time with service users and are able to offer more personalised services. Finally, the wide discrepancies between regions and counties and between urban and rural areas were highlighted as a key problem, which needs to be addressed.

Some international as well as local good practice examples were also presented from Cluj and the neighbouring region. Márta Marczis from the UN Development Fund presented some flagship projects set up in Cluj to improve the living standards for Roma living in Pata Răt, a Roma settlement on the outskirts of the city. One such project called the ‘business incubator’ aims to provide training in professional waste selection for adults who work in the garbage dumps near the settlement, while an Inclusion Centre provides temporary and permanent shelters for young and vulnerable Roma families living in the settlements. Meanwhile, Erika Stark from the Municipality of Arad (ESN member) presented two local projects run by the municipality – an art therapy ‘creative centre’ and a laundry service employing people with disabilities – which aim to encourage the social and professional rehabilitation and independence of people with disabilities.

In a session on partnerships in developing community care, delegates discussed the challenges and opportunities of the transition from institutional to community care. Loredana Ercus from the Institute of Public Policy in Bucharest highlighted that while the number of beneficiaries of community care had increased between 2007 and 2011, in some cases EU funds continue to be used to build, refurbish and extend residential care facilities. Voichita Pop from UNICEF talked about the community care service model that is being developed in cooperation with local authorities in North-East region, which aims to ensure that there is a child protection worker in the field to strengthen the support for families. However, for the transition to community care to be successful it needs to be ensured that there is sufficient investment in key services based in the community, emphasised ESN policy officer Adrienn Sz. Nagy.

Philip Cotterill, ESN member from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) in the UK, has been working with social services in Romania, particularly Arad, since 2000. He noted: “It was great to be in Cluj again to see the advances made in social care. Ensuring that vulnerable people are not lost in ‘the system’ was a recurrent theme of the conference. Although facing huge pressures due to the on-going financial crisis, delegates were full of optimism and commitment to working together and in partnership with other agencies to ensure good practice and learning were shared across the various municipalities. One of the key decisions made was to establish an association of social care professionals in the region to help and support and encourage each other in these difficult times.”

The European Social Network (ESN) supports the idea for social service professionals to get together on a regular basis to exchange ideas and learn from each other and we are always happy to offer our expertise to make this possible.