Cluj 2011

Amidst the worst economic crisis since 1989, the municipality of Cluj hosted the 3rd Romanian Social Services Conference. This event, supported by the Mayor’s Office in Cluj, attracted around 100 delegates from all over Romania as well as a small ESN delegation headed by ESN’s Vice Chair Christian Fillet from Belgium (VVOS).

Opening the conference together with the Deputy Mayor, Mr Fillet highlighted that high interest in this meeting is “an important achievement and a clear signal that such a setting is indispensible for senior professionals and politicians”. He reflected on his earlier visit to Romania some 30 years ago and praised the country’s rapid modernisation.

Philip Cotterill (ADASS), who launched a major twinning programme between six British and six Romanian cities in 1997, spoke of the need to learn from one another, to inspire and be inspired in order to bring about change. Attending the conference for the 3rd time, Mr Cotterill applauded the organisers for their determination to raise the profile of the social work profession in Romania.

Speaking in the same workshop, Tamás Spiesz (National Family & Social Policy Institute, Hungary) focused on the social work curriculum and said that it should reflect the latest policy developments. He also criticised certain university programmes for being overly rigid and thus poorly preparing young graduates to deal with complex situations when they leave university.

Birgit Sannes (NHV), a guest from Norway, gave an insight into the benefits of technology for social service users. She demonstrated how various devices and systems may enhance users’ wellbeing while creating a safe environment and letting them stay longer in their homes. Ms Sannes warned that ICT cannot be used as an ‘electronic leash’ and that technology is smart only when it is accessible and useful to both users and service providers.

Maura Morgan (HSE) agreed with Ms Sannes that people’s independence should be promoted and that everyone should have a chance to live independently. This is the new direction of the Irish government, intent on closing down its remaining institutions and creating a community-based alternative for people with disabilities.

Romanian speakers talked about financial hardship (salaries in the public sector were cut by 25% last year) and staff shortages affecting their daily work. They bemoaned the bureaucratic hurdles to accessing EU structural funds and expressed concern about the sustainability of new service models piloted in their local authorities and funded by external donors. Working in partnership and being creative – these are the ways forward in these difficult times, the delegates agreed at the end.