“Family outreach workers” help more than 50 families at risk in Serbia
The support to 53 families with 118 children is provided in four Serbian cities – Belgrade, Kragujevac, Nis and Novi Sad – within the “Family Outreach Worker” supported by the “Novak Djokovic” Foundation and UNICEF in cooperation with the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Policy. The family outreach worker service is targeted at protecting the unity of families at risk and preventing the separation of children from their families, as well as securing that the children who were temporarily placed in foster care return to their families. At the moment, the service is being implemented in four children’s homes that are developing community based services: in the Zvecanska home in Belgrade, the “Dusko Radovic” home in Nis, Developmental Centre “Kneginja Ljubica” in Kragujevac and in SOS Children’s Village in Novi Sad. The service is provided by 16 family outreach workers supported by expert teams working in their institutions. Families – beneficiaries – are referred to the service by Centres for Social Work, securing that the service is available to those who need it the most. “The “Novak Djokovic” foundation strongly believes in this project which holds strategic significance for us. Introduction of a completely new service into the social protection system demands enormous efforts, and our partners did a fantastic job. All the families may use the service for six months at the most and I am certain that the results will follow, i.e. that they will be much empowered after our support. It is clear that difficult economic situation has weakened even the strongest of families, yet families are cornerstone of our society and we will do everything to help them to stay together, as well as to make sure that our children remain with their parents. Our goal under this project is to reach more than 1000 children within two years,” said Ms Jelena Ristic, the “Novak Djokovic” Foundation Chief Executive Officer. The family outreach worker service is flexibly designed in order to address different needs of families. Family outreach workers pay regular visits to families and provides practical support in solving everyday challenges, as well as family disputes and problems. Furthermore, a family outreach worker constitutes a kind of a “bridge” between a family and a community and helps, for example, in enrolling children into kindergarten or a day care, collecting administrative documentation necessary for families to receive financial support, obtaining medical care for family members and enrolling children in community based creative or sporting activities. “The service is based on the conviction that separation of a child from the family and his/her placement in residential or foster care is an experience quite stressful and painful, since it leads to severing the bonds with the people extremely close and significant to children. Therefore, the principle is always to empower the natural family – whenever it is assessed that a family can be empowered by support, and when it is in the best interest of a child,” said Ms Katlin Brasic, UNICEF Serbia Child Protection Specialist. Family outreach workers have been carefully selected so as to possess the necessary skills, and have received additional training within the project by the experts from the Republic Institute for Social Protection and their collaborators. “The Republic Institute for Social Protection has played a major role in designing the family outreach worker service, and now monitors its implementation, tests and improves the designed concept. The social protection institutions that pilot the service work with us on its further adjustments. So far the reactions of the families are good. Certainly, to get a complete picture on the usefulness of the service and its place within the system, we need to wait for the service provision to be completed for a certain number of families and see what changes it has made in the lives of the family members. The first impressions are very good, though” explains Mr Bozidar Dakic, Managing Director of the Republic Institute for Social Protection. Family outreach workers say that no two families are the same, and thus they each need to be treated uniquely. “We begin our work by visiting families and talking to them as directly as possible. Our approach is friendly, which they appreciate, and it helps establish mutual trust which is crucial for the success of the service. The families must make efforts, change their bad habits and develop greater sense of responsibility, and this is where we support them. Furthermore, it is also highly important for us to find out whether they have documents, whether their children possess health cards, go to school or kindergartens, as well as to help them to get included into the community life from which they are often excluded,” family outreach workers say. The Republic of Serbia has already adopted a ban of placing children in institutions. The Ministry carefully monitors the piloting of this service and is interested in the outcomes for each individual family. The plan is that the family outreach worker service become an integral part of the social protection system if the outcomes prove to be good – and the initial results indicate that it is developing in a right way. “The fact that the project is in line with and supports our strategy of decreasing the number of institutionalised children, makes it extremely important for the Serbian Government and our ministry. On the other hand, it is vitally important that, as of today, the families are worked with as much as possible, because the challenges are multiple and the potential for crises that eventually result in separation of children from their families is thus higher. Once we have peace, understanding and members together in as many families as possible, and our plan is for this project to cover more than 400 families in three years, we will know that we have done a good job. For the time being, we are positive that we are on the right track,” said Ms Brankica Jankovic, the State Secretary of the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Policy. Beneficiaries of the service are families with children that often face extreme poverty, simultaneously encountering mental health challenges, or the situations in which either a child or a parent have disability. In other words, these are the families facing multiple deprivation, the families for which it has been assessed that there is a risk of neglecting certain needs of a child – however the risk that can be overcome if a right support is provided. This three-year project, financed by the “Novak Djokovic” Foundation in the amount of US$ 750,000, is completely new and innovative in this region and has multiple objectives.