Humanitarian aid from Ukrainian Charity “Turbota pro Litnif v Ukraini” to lonely people 70+ in Donbass: challenges, lessons learned and recommendations

The situation in Donbass is quite challenging due to the conflict and its consequences in the resident population. The TLU team used the new WJR grant of 10 000 GBP received in winter 2020-21 to make the necessary procurements and arrange the delivery of humanitarian aid to 384 residents aged 70+ in 14 villages located in the contact line.

By Galina Poliakova, Ukrainian Chartity “Turbota pro Litnih v Ukraini”

 The situation in Donbass is quite challenging due to the conflict and its consequences in the resident population. Younger people have left the region and have settled in more prosperous and safer places. Older people prefer to stay in their own homes. When asked about this choice they replied “I would like to die in my own home” or “I want to be buried near my parents”. Which is not very optimistic, but still their choice. Furthermore, the area is not only in the “buffer zone” of the conflict but also in the “orange” COVID-19 quarantine zone. Public transport was very scarce before the epidemic, and nowadays it has become even worse. The area is partially demolished by shelling and unfortunately, the combat activity continues. As a result, old people who live alone, especially those with restricted mobility, have very limited access to shops and other services.

In addition, most humanitarian missions and charities have lost interest in Ukraine and the war conflict in Donbass. The Ukrainian Charity “Turbota pro Litnif v Ukraini” (TLU) and their partners are providing support to these marginalized older persons living in Donbass with the financial support of the British Jewish community’s international humanitarian agency “World Jewish Relief” (WJR), that has been offered from the beginning of the war in 2014. This support had saved many lives of old lonely people in the non-government-controlled area and in the buffer zone close to the contact line.

The TLU team used the new WJR grant of 10 000 GBP received in winter 2020-21 to make the necessary procurements and arrange the delivery of humanitarian aid to 384 residents aged 70+ in 14 villages located in the contact line, namely: Ceramik, Novoselivka, Novoselivka-1, Novoselivka-2, Novoselivka-3, Novokalinove, Novobakhmutivka, Ocheretine, Pervomaiske, Oleksandropil, Semenivka Verkhniotoretske, Vodiane, and Zhelanne. The humanitarian aid contained food products and sanitation/hygiene items (including reusable masks).

The delivery of the humanitarian aid is not, however, without challenges. The first challenge the staff of both TLU and our partner organisation “Slavic Heart” encountered was the difficulty of handling heavy-weight products and materials. This challenge was overcome with the assistance of two young volunteers from Kiev. They unloaded the lorries arriving from the suppliers of the goods, helped to pack the individual packages and then loaded the lorries to deliver the humanitarian aid to the beneficiaries.

The second challenge was caused by the focus on a very specific group of beneficiaries: these were lonely people aged 70+ with health problems. As they could not come to the meeting points and bring home their two packages (one with food and the other with sanitary items), the humanitarian aid had to be delivered to every house in every village. This effort increased the cost of delivery which was covered by a small grant provided by the German Federal Fund “Erinnerung, Verantwortung und Zukunft” (EVZ).

The third challenge was related to the weather conditions: short daylight hours and icy roads made the delivery process more difficult. However, the experienced team could cope with these problems and deliver the aid packages to the beneficiaries. Taking into account the mentioned inconveniences the team had to be more careful and to drive in day time. Of course, this entailed the need to do more trips and thus the project implementation took about two weeks longer. However, despite dreadful roads and adverse weather conditions, the packages were delivered to the beneficiaries.

Every single beneficiary was attended personally and the parcels were delivered to every home. Yet, this is not a common practice. Several humanitarian missions prefer to provide vouchers to the people living in the “buffer” zone. Although this approach gives them a chance to select the products on their own, unfortunately old and frail people cannot make use of this privilege. The supermarkets are located in bigger localities which are inaccessible for old people with partial immobility, to say nothing of those who are confined to beds. We believe that for these categories of people in need, measures and services provided should take into consideration what the needs are and how to provide for them in an accessible way, otherwise they might not achieve the intended results. Simple actions such as door-to-door delivery can make a significant difference and should be incorporated in any initiative.

Foster care in Albania

Referring to the latest annual report of State Social Services, during 2020 15 children from the public residential institutions of children in Albania have been reunited with their biological families, while 27 children have been adopted. The national program for the establishment of the new foster care service is institutionalized since 2008 in the Strategy of social protection and the action plan for its implementation.

By Merita Xhumari and Megi Xhumari, University of Tirana

There are approximately 700,000 children in Albania, representing a dependency ratio of 25.0 children per 100 working age population. Close to 0.12 per cent (1.2 per 1,000) of the child population lives in residential institutional care, as reported by the State Inspectorate for Social Services in June 2016. Referring to the latest annual report of State Social Services, during 2020 15 children from the public residential institutions of children in Albania have been reunited with their biological families, while 27 children have been adopted. The national program for the establishment of the new foster care service is institutionalized since 2008 in the Strategy of social protection and the action plan for its implementation. Law 18/2017, “On the children’s rights and protection” defines the institutional mechanisms for the protection of children’s rights at central and local level. These developments reflect the commitments of the Albanian government towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2030, Objective 1.4 Article 20: “Children deprived of their family environment are entitled to special protection and assistance from the State which provides… an alternative care” in the National Agenda for Children Rights 2017-2020. Albania’s EU integration process also requires the development of policies and services according to Principle 11 “Care and support for children” of the European Pillar of Social Rights.

In order to support alternative care for children, SOS Children’s Villages Albania in partnership with Tirana Legal Aid Society (TLAS) have been implementing the project “The Development of CSOs for foster care in Albania”, financed by European Union. The objective of the project was to: “Support good practices and models of protection of children from abuse and violence, alternative care, family strengthening, inclusive education and early childhood development with a special focus on vulnerable & minority groups”. The project started in April 2018 and ended in March 2021, implemented in 3 main regions of Albania, Tirana, Durrësi and Korça.

Despite the fact that in the last years, de-institutionalization and the development of family-based services and foster care have become a priority for governmental agendas, the accessibility to a range of care options, including foster care, has not really been prioritized and residential cares prevails and continues to account for the highest number of children in alternative care. The main challenges faced that were identified in the course of the project implementation on foster care have been the lack of information and public awareness about this new family-based service. In Albania, the placement of children in kinship families has traditionally been applied without any court process. On the one hand, it has been the mentality of biological parents to leave their children in residential care rather than in foster care families, as they fear they might lose their child forever. On the other hand, there is the mentality of Albanian families, who want to have a child permanently as part of the family, to better decide for adoption rather than have a foster family that provides a temporary care for children without parental care. Furthermore, there are also macro level challenges related to the capacities of local government, courts and other local actors that need to be developed to be able to manage the new foster care service.

The key recommendations drawn from the project implementation include the actions to increase public awareness on foster care, the creation of a juvenile court, free legal service for foster families; the establishment of better synergies across institutions; and for foster family to be recognized as a profession and to have an adequate payment.

In support of these recommendations, one of the main outputs of the project was the development of a Practical Training Manual for Foster Care in Albania by Bethany Social Services, the first local NGO piloting foster care service in Albania, to guide local professionals and key stakeholders in foster care service implementation. The Manual published in the Albanian language can assist professionals from Kosovo, North Macedonia, as well as Montenegro where a considerable Albanian population is living.

The central axis for addressing the main topics of the Manual is the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child ratified by the Albanian government, which stipulates that “… the child, for the full and harmonious development of his / her personality, must grow up in a family environment, in a happy atmosphere, with love and understanding”, as well as the UN Guidelines for Alternative Care for Children.

Content-wise, the Training Manual aims to provide knowledge, develop skills and competencies related to:

  • The value and importance of the family for children;
  • Laws, regulations and policies governing the foster care service;
  • The process of implementing the foster care service;
  • Categories of competencies for the foster care service;
  • Commitment to the role as a member of a professional Cross-cutting Technical Group.

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the deinstitutionalization of child care reform in Ukraine

“The first wave” of the childcare deinstitutionalization reform in Ukraine started in 2008. As a result, since 2017, more than 90% of orphans and children deprived of parental care are raised in families or in family-type forms of care (under guardianship/custody, by relatives, in foster families, family-type child homes) according to the data of the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine.

By Iryna Demchenko & Nataliia Bulyha, NGO Analytical Center “Socioconsulting”

“The first wave” of the childcare deinstitutionalization reform in Ukraine started in 2008. As a result, since 2017, more than 90% of orphans and children deprived of parental care are raised in families or in family-type forms of care (under guardianship/custody, in particular by relatives, in foster families, family-type child homes) according to the data of the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine.

But despite this, institutional care facilities still operate and host children. For example, according to the results of a comprehensive study of the child protection system in Ukraine “Illusion of protection” conducted by “Hope and Homes for Children”, there were 751 institutional care facilities in Ukraine by September 2016. And more than 100 thousand children received services in such institutions, but only 8% of them were orphans or of parents deprived of the parental rights; the remaining 92 % had parents.

This dual system has several negative consequences: firstly, the irrational use of funds, as the system still supports the institutional care which proved inefficient. And, on the other hand, the families of institutionalised children might still receive state benefits, allowances, and other support, since these are not to subjected to the physical presence of the child in the family.

Secondly, the current system also allows parents to place a child in an institution for a long period only by submitting an application. This possibility does not motivate the parents to overcome life challenges and to improve family well-being. Accordingly, a child who has spent many years in an institution returns to an unfavourable family environment, which significantly reduces his/her chances of successful integration and achieving professional and life goals. Besides, such a child is not entitled to receive benefits provided to orphans and children, whose parents are officially deprived of parental rights (i.e., priority placement in a dormitory and free use of the accommodation).

All of these reasons prompted the acceleration of the deinstitutionalization reform. In 2017, the “second wave” took place. There were some positive developments in 2019 compared to 2017, according to the input on the ‘Monitoring of Institutional care facilities’ provided by the Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights on January 1, 2020, namely an 8% decrease in the number of institutions, an 8% decrease in the number of children who received services in institutions, and a 13% decrease in the number of children, who stayed in institutions 24/7.

According to the data of the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 40 thousand children from institutions were returned to their families in March 2020. However, about 6 thousand children (no more than 10%) remained at the institutions because they had nowhere else to go. Experts unanimously characterized this situation as a sign of the futility of the existing system and the de facto beginning of the overdue deinstitutionalization reform.

In June 2020, the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine approved the “Procedure for enrolment of children for 24-hour stay in child institutional care and upbringing facilities” (which could be considered the “third wave” of the deinstitutionalization reform). This document included two key innovations:

  • enrolment of a child in the institution is possible only when all other care options have been exhausted (in other words, parents must provide papers to prove that the placement of a child in an institution is necessary);
  • the suspension of payment of state aid to the family if the child is placed in educational institutions 24/7.

However, the implementation of this document has encountered fierce resistance, which is caused by several factors, namely:

1) The inclination of the local authorities to preserve the status. For the united territorial communities (UTCs) placing a child in a regional level institution allows not to take responsibility for this child, besides, a large facility on the territory of the community means jobs and revenues to the local budget. In this way the regional administrations receive significant funds from the state budget to maintain huge land lots (up to 125 ha) and premises (up to 95 thousand square meters).

2) A significant number of community level administration is not properly aware of the depth of the issue, do not see the need to make significant efforts, and invest in the development of basic community social services. The sector experts state that only a third of the need for social workers at UTC is met. This leads to a low level of coverage of vulnerable families with preventive social services which will reduce the number of neglected.

3) The parents still support the institutionalisation due to the fact that it is economically advantageous for parents to place their children in boarding schools. In particular, the legislation provides ample possibility for the parent to be exempted of all costs related to childcare and education in the boarding schools.

4) The institutionalisation is further aggravated by the inadequate development of health, educational, rehabilitation, and social services for families with children in the community, which objectively complicates/makes it impossible to raise a child in a family.

On the education side, there is a lack of general education services in the rural areas including issues with transporting children from one community to another, and lack of basic community services such as after-school activities and supervision, food provision. The insufficient development of inclusive education pushes parents to place their children in specific institutions to provide them education per the peculiarities of their development.

As a result of the resistance to childcare deinstitutionalization reform, a decree of the Cabinet of Minister’s “On Amendments to the National Strategy for Reforming the System of Institutional Care and Upbringing of Children for 2017-2026” was recently drafted and is now at the stage of approval. The document in fact closes out the reform of deinstitutionalization in Ukraine, namely excludes an essential part of institutions from the reform and delays to 2026 the termination of children under 3 years placement in institutions. Currently, international and Ukrainian NGOs working in the field of children rights protection are fighting to prevent this decree from being approved.

The situation of children with disabilities in Belarus

Stigma and discrimination, both structural and social, against children with disabilities are widespread. Communities at large fail to understand that most families with children with disabilities could enjoy fulfilling lives if given adequate support by social protection, education and healthcare sectors.

By Alexander Karankevich, independent consultant

Children with disabilities in Belarus continue to face multiple institutional, attitudinal and structural barriers to realizing their human rights despite the efforts of the country to protect and promote their rights. Stigma and discrimination, both structural and social, against children with disabilities are widespread. Communities at large fail to understand that most families with children with disabilities could enjoy fulfilling lives if given adequate support by social protection, education and healthcare sectors. The State policy is grounded on a medical model of disability that cannot address complex societal and other barriers that children with disabilities face.

Inclusive education is in its very beginning in Belarus. Health problems and disabilities prevent children from studying on an equal basis in regular general education school and such children are at greatest risk of being placed in residential institutions. A large share of the children living in residential care are children with disabilities (48.2%), and about 75% of these children have parents who have either abandoned them voluntarily (35%) or been deprived of parental rights (40%) according to data from the Belarus Statistical Committee. Once in institution, a child with disabilities usually spends most of his/her life in residential care and is transferred from one institution to another. There are several types of institutional care, mostly specialized on age and specific needs of the child: infant homes (healthcare system), orphanages and boarding schools (education system), boarding homes (social protection system).

Those parents who choose to keep their children often limit their contact with the community because of fear of stigma and discrimination. Considerably a small number of substitute parents (guardians, foster, adoptive parents) dare to take the responsibility for the care of a child with special needs.

The services for children with disabilities in Belarus are provided by a range of actors, including education, social protection and healthcare systems. The lack of coordination hinders the effective provision of these services. Even if coordination mechanisms are technically in place, they often fail to address children with disabilities’ particular risks of social exclusion and isolation. Professionals generally lack the competence and knowledge to adequately address the needs of children with disabilities, underestimate the role of the family and the adverse impact of institutionalization on a child’s well-being.

The de-institutionalization process in the country led to the closure or reorganization of the residential care network. The process of the reorganization of the residential institutions under the health sector started in 2015 and only in 2018 in the social protection sector.

The boarding homes for children and young people with disabilities are the largest residential care institutions in Belarus. They function under the social protection system and provide accommodation, education and care to children and youth with severe disabilities. The boarding homes are closed type institutions, mostly located far from settlements and completely cut off from the society. These are settings where children are deprived of any family like environment. It happens that children live in the crowded wards, this is especially common for children with severe and multiple health disorders.

The light at the end of the tunnel is the commitment of the Belarus Ministries of Education, Health, Labour and Social Protection to reform the residential care institutions’ network and strengthen the community-based support services for families caring for children with disabilities as stated in their ‘Сross-sectoral Plan of inter-agency measures for integrated deinstitutionalisation of children and youth for the period 2020-2023’. Early intervention healthcare services system for young children and inclusive education national policy agenda have a great potential to keep the child with special needs close to their families.

Recent developments in the childcare and child protection system in Armenia

Since 2001, the Armenian Government in cooperation with international and local organizations has been carrying out reforms aimed to establish and strengthen the childcare and protection system. As a result of these efforts the number of children living in residential care institutions has decreased drastically: based on official data from 12,700 children kept in close state education and care institutions in 2001, to 1,429 in 2019.

by Hasmik Arakelyan

Since 2001, the Armenian Government in cooperation with international and local organizations has been carrying out reforms aimed to establish and strengthen the childcare and protection system. As a result of these efforts the number of children living in residential care institutions has decreased drastically: based on official data from 12,700 children kept in close state education and care institutions in 2001, to 1,429 in 2019. Yet, children with disabilities are still amongst the most vulnerable groups in Armenian society. There are 8,376 children registered with disabilities in Armenia in 2019, which constitutes up to one percent of the child population (765,300 children in 2019).  According to the Armenia Poverty Snapshot report for 2008-2018, in 2018, 1.5% of children below 18 lived in extreme poverty and 29.2% lived in poverty. One in every four Armenian children and one in four Armenian females live in multidimensional poverty (A measure of multidimensional poverty captures the complexity, depth and persistence of poverty and offers important information to complement the analysis of monetary/consumption poverty), therefore, in comparison with the entire population, children were exposed to a higher risk of both total and extreme poverty.

The key barriers and system bottlenecks leading to children’s exclusion and institutionalization in Armenia include poverty, disability, lack of community-based family support services (day care, psycho-social support, highly specialized services for families such as counselling, rehabilitation, patronage services, etc.) and family-like alternatives (kinship care, foster care and other forms of family-based care), discrimination, stigma and violence, poorly implemented policies, inadequate budgets, data gaps, quality teaching/learning processes, and inadequate social protection mechanisms, as well as the incapacity of parents and/or their absence to care for their children’s needs, especially for children with disabilities. Besides, the system of protecting children without adequate parental care, living in poverty or with disability is not consolidated, coherent and flexible enough to accommodate the evolving needs of children. The coordination between different state and non-state actors is not enough to ensure good results for children.

The state family benefit package is low and without additional support to carry out this critical role, hence placing a child in an institution is often the only option when the capacity of the biological parents is stretched too thin. Moreover, the support and oversight of kinship care is insufficient and kinship caregivers often take on the extra responsibility of the child when their existing resources are already limited. Meanwhile, foster care services are developing, but at a low pace, as the number of foster parents increased from 25 to 78 in 10 years, but this the number is insufficient compared to the actual need of foster care services.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs delegates state outsourced services to NGOs in communities, where there are no services for children. The NGO run day-care centres fill significant gaps, providing much-needed services and follow-up support for these children, but they are mainly placed in big cities limiting the access of families from remote villages and their coverage is typically limited, non-uniform, and they lack sustainability.

The state outsourced services include day care and support services for children that reunified with their families as a result of the transformation of residential care institutions. While the Deinstitutionalisation reform targets children with disabilities (with the introduction of specialized foster care and expansion of alternative community-based services), there are three specialized orphanages in Armenia for children with disabilities. The Deinstitutionalisation process of children with disabilities is more complex due to the inability of parents to accept their children back to their families and/or lack of alternative care solutions for this target group of children. A child with disabilities and/or mental health issues may need a rehabilitation service, however, the state is not able to provide the required support due to lack of those services. However, child protection experts in Armenia state that the new Government has a vision and demonstrated ownership of child protection and child de-institutionalisation process. Quantitative data also indicate this through considerable reduction of the number of children in residential care institutions for the last 4 years, from 3971 children in 2015 to 1429 in 2019. COVID-19 pandemic has also prompted the MoLSA to set the necessary preventive and social assistance (cash plus assistance) programs for children and families in difficult life circumstances, in particular children with disabilities. The demand for these services is getting bigger, due to unemployment/loss of employment of parents, increased violence in the family, social deprivations.

Summarising, further efforts are needed to ensure that initial results are not reversed: prevention of re-institutionalization of children who returned to biological/extended families should be prioritized and community-based services for children with disabilities should be expanded and made accessible to children and families where they live. Besides, mix of services should be diversified in a way that various possible situations and needs of children are considered, including children with emotional and mental health issues, with challenging behaviour, or victims of abuse.

An Economic Outlook to the Republic of Kosovo and the recent impact of COVID-19

Due to its rapid spread the government of the Republic of Kosovo, in accordance with the recommendations of the National Institute of Public Health in Kosovo, and similar to most other countries in the world, starting from March 13, 2020 imposed measures which restricted many economic activities and then restricted the movement of people.

By Muhamet Klinaku, Department of Labour Market, Employment Agency of the Republic of Kosovo

The COVID-19 pandemic which appeared at the end of 2019, first in China and then spread throughout the globe reached Kosovo in March 2020. As a result, and due to its rapid spread the government of the Republic of Kosovo, in accordance with the recommendations of the National Institute of Public Health in Kosovo, and similar to most other countries in the world, starting from March 13, 2020 imposed measures which restricted many economic activities and then restricted the movement of people. Among other measures, all hotel and gastronomy businesses, interurban transport and other businesses that sell specialized goods (textiles, etc.) were closed. As a result, most Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are already affected by the coronavirus in most countries of the world, and Kosovo is not an exception to having economic implications for the country.

Kosovo belongs to the group of upper-middle income countries group. Similar to the average growth trend in the respective group of countries, Kosovo has experienced constant growth rates over the past years. Figure 1 reveals that between 2010 and 2019 average real GDP growth was around 6%, varying between 3% and 9% over the years.

GDP growth rates have to some degree translated into increased employment opportunities and decreased unemployment throughout the years, as one of main economic issues that is challenging the Kosovo economy. According to the Kosovo Agency of Statistics, shown in Figure 2, labour force participation in the working age population has increased from 37.6% in 2015 to 40.5% in 2019, reflecting a decreasing rate of inactive people in the working age population.

In terms of women participation in employment, data reveal a persistently large degree of disadvantaging women in the labour market (see Figure 3).The same trend has followed in terms of employment rate (employed people in the total of the working age population) which has grown from 25.2% to 30.1% between 2015 and 2019. More importantly, the rate of unemployed people has decreased in the respective period, falling from 32.9% in 2015 to 25.7% in 2019. Despite small variations across the annual rates, data suggest a solid positive economic trend before the COVID-19 outbreak.

Youth unemployment also showed a decreasing trend (see Figure 4), reducing from 57.7% in 2015 to 49.4% in 2019. On the other hand, share of vulnerable groups in total employment has decreased from 22.8% to 18.8% between 2015 and 2019, which suggests for an average growing trend of more quality and decent work opportunities in the economy.

However, COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to affect the economy beyond initial expectations, so the situation remains uncertain. The Kosovo Government has estimated a GDP contraction of around 3% in 2020, while World Bank latest estimations suggests that it may be as high as 8.8%. The large decrease is due to worsening of the economic indicators, which have deteriorated as compared to initial estimations. However, World Bank outlook projections beyond 2020 are positive, suggesting for a GDP growth of over 3% in 2021 and over 4% in 2022. About 80 percent of Kosovo travel service exports are driven by Kosovar diaspora, whose arrivals in bigger numbers are expected to happen as soon as travel measures will be lifted, anticipated to influence spending and investment (World Bank Report, 2020).Despite a positive outlook that prevailed until 2019, COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in 2020, followed with restrictive policies by the government, has temporary reversed the growth trend. It has negatively affected economic activities, with stronger impact on the private sector, both in terms of income and jobs. Working hours have been reduced and many businesses offered their employees leaves of absence without pay (World Bank Business Pulse Survey, 2020). Some preliminary studies suggest that the number of unemployed has increased dramatically during the second quarter of 2020, The Kosovo Employment Agency has recorded around 80,000 additional job seekers[1].

[1] Source: Employment Agency of Republic of Kosovo , Report for 2020.

Childcare in the Western Balkans and Eastern Europe

The European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research conducted research on the situation of children at risk of losing the parental care and children that have lost the parental care in Albania, North Macedonia, Armenia, Belarus and Ukraine.

Veronica Sandu, European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research

From May to December 2020 the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research conducted research on the situation of children at risk of losing the parental care and children that have lost the parental care in five countries from Western Balkans and Eastern Europe region: Albania and North Macedonia, Armenia, Belarus and Ukraine. The research was part of a broader report done in cooperation with SOS Children’s Villages Worldwide Hermann-Gmeiner Fonds Deutschland and SOS Children’s Villages National Associations in the respective countries.

The analysis was done based on the review of legislation, policy reports and strategic documents, childcare national and regional reports, and other relevant documents. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRDP) country concluding observations have been consulted as part of the desk review. National statistics on vulnerable children were collected by referring to the national and international data sets and reports. In addition, key childcare stakeholders in depth interviews have been done in all countries.

There are many causes of risk for children to lose parental care and to be institutionalised. These risks can be related to: individual attributes (e.g., disability, skills, gender, sexual orientation, etc.); family circumstances (e.g., migration, poverty, stigma, language, ethnicity, geographic area, etc.); circumstances related to a specific risk (e.g., abduction, trafficking, homelessness, domestic violence, juvenile crimes, etc.); and humanitarian situations (displacement, armed conflicts, social breakdown, etc.).

About 11 million children live in the 5 selected countries, about 3 million of them live below the national poverty line, and about 210 thousand children are children with disabilities. The institutional care remains the main form of care in almost all countries. In total, in the region, about 100,000 children receive care in large residential facilities and 78,000 children receive care in some sort of family-based type of care service. The share of children receiving care in large institutions is almost twice the share of children in family-based care. One exception is Belarus, where many children receive care in their extended families under the guardianship/tutorship type of care.

The five countries make significant efforts to develop the family-based care as part of a broader de-institutionalization (De-I) reform or in parallel to improving the quality of residential care. The most common type of family-based care is the guardianship/tutorship care followed by foster care. Both of these services though are developed unevenly in terms of child vulnerability (very few foster care services are available for children with disabilities, for babies, for children with behavioural problems). All countries lack specialised foster care for emergency situations, and for appropriate care of children with special needs. Adoption is limited in all countries, with the exception of Belarus, where the number of adopted children is close to that of children placed in foster care.

The childcare systems in all these countries are undergoing major reforms such as the De-I reform, alternative care service development, community-based service development, development of child abandon and prevention programs, and preventions programs for families at risk of being separated from their children. At the same time, various policy gaps are limiting the childcare policy impact. These gaps refer to poor financing of childcare in the region, human resources in the sector not equipped in terms of skills, knowledge and resources to support these reforms, and childcare roles and responsibilities between administrations levels not fully clarified. The public private partnership in care provision is unregulated, and quality monitoring not fully in place.

The research conducted by the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research will support the Children’s Villages Worldwide Hermann-Gmeiner Fonds Deutschland and SOS Children’s Villages National Associations in policy dialogue, advocacy efforts, internal planning processes to further support the childcare reforms in the 5 selected countries.

Criminal Law Protection of People with Disabilities against Discrimination in the Republic of Serbia

Persons with disabilities in the Republic of Serbia are a very sensitive category that is discriminated against in multiple ways and excluded from the main social aspects. The mechanisms of protecting persons with disabilities, securing equal representation and their complete integration are achieved through adequate legislation and criminal laws, and also special protection in big crisis such as pandemic COVID-19.

Filip Mirić & Aleksandra Nikolajević, University of Niš, Republic of Serbia

For an open and democratic society, it is of crucial importance that all its citizens, regardless of their personal characteristics and features, have a right to education, cultural activities, recreation, access to the labor market, and equality in all segments of social life. Persons with disabilities in the Republic of Serbia are a very sensitive category that is discriminated against in multiple ways and excluded from the main social aspects. The mechanisms of protecting persons with disabilities, securing equal representation and their complete integration are achieved through adequate legislation and criminal laws, and also special protection in big crisis such as pandemic COVID-19.

In the legal system of Republic of Serbia discrimination is a crime. Firstly, we should mention the criminal offense of violation of equality under Article 128 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Serbia (hereinafter referred to as CC). Another important offence envisaged in Article 387 of the Serbian Criminal Code is the criminal offense of racial and other discrimination. The basic form of this criminal offense is committed by anyone who, on the grounds of differences in race, color, religion, nationality, ethnic origin or some other personal characteristic, violates the fundamental human rights and freedoms guaranteed by universally accepted rules of international law and international treaties ratified by Serbia; the perpetrator of such a crime may be punished by a term of imprisonment ranging from six months to five years. Apart from this, there are other forms of the same criminal offense. The same punishment (imprisonment ranging from six months to five years) will be imposed on those who persecute organizations or individuals for their efforts to promote equality.

A number of offences are punished by imprisonment ranging from three months to three years, such as in the case of anyone who spreads ideas about the superiority of one race over another, or propagates racial hatred or incites racial discrimination; anyone who disseminates or otherwise makes public texts, pictures or any other representation of ideas or theories that advocate or encourage hatred, discrimination or violence against any person or group of persons based on race, skin color, religious affiliation, nationality, ethnicity origin or other personal property; and anyone who publicly threatens to commit a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment exceeding four years against a person or a group of persons belonging to a particular race, color, religion, nationality, ethnic origin or other personal property. The criminalization of equality violations from Article 128 CC can be considered as a positive development. Namely, the amendments to the Criminal Code (adopted in 2016) also mention disability as one of the grounds for the violation of equality, which is in compliance with Article 21 of the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia concerning the prohibition of discrimination.

Awareness of persons with disabilities is a very important factor in preventing discrimination in all areas. The results of a study conducted by Filip Mirić in 2019 on the awareness of persons with disabilities about the legal protection mechanisms available to them, show that as many as 70.59% of respondents do not have enough information on criminal protection against discrimination. In addition, the existence of a large percentage of under-informed respondents indicate the need to create active policies to raise awareness about the mechanisms of legal protection of persons with disabilities against discrimination. While the legal framework seems to be complete, it is clear that more needs to be done in terms of awareness raising on the existence and applicability of these laws to protect persons with disabilities and their right to full integration in the Serbian society. The responsibility rests, certainly, on the institutions themselves and the created social policy measures that aim at the social integration and equality of all citizens in Serbia and that can be monitored by the evaluation of established measures and factual indicators of their representation.

An Interactive OnLine Platform for students and Practitioners of Social Work in Serbia and the wider region

At the beginning of April 2020, when we all have got convinced that the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to disrupt even more the environments in which social service users and social care beneficiaries live, and to have several negative consequences for their well-being and protection, the need for united activities of all social actors became imperative.

Slavica Milojevic, FPN KONEKTAS

FPN KonekTaS is an interactive online platform that brings together practitioners, teachers and students of social work and social policy in Serbia to share new theoretical and practical knowledge, professional experiences and dilemmas and strategies for overcoming obstacles caused by COVID 19, but also in their everyday work.

At the beginning of April 2020, when we all have got convinced that the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to disrupt even more the environments in which social service users and social care beneficiaries live, and to have several negative consequences for their well-being and protection, the need for united activities of all social actors became imperative.

Along with information on the scale of the pandemic and its impact on socially vulnerable individuals and groups, information on the additional workload of social services providers in this situation has become evident. Namely, an increased demand put on the professionals in the social welfare system in the current situation to ensure health care and safety at the same time for themselves and for their beneficiaries, made them vulnerable too. In such circumstances, the feeling of helplessness began to spread rapidly and threatened to jeopardize the quality of professional work. This is particularly important within the ongoing efforts and some of the challenges the system and professionals are facing in relation to their already limited resources to perform in a timely and high quality manner.

As expected, adversity brings people together and encourages innovative solutions to overcome the problems that communities are faced with. Proactive approaches to addressing the needs and problems of particularly vulnerable groups have begun to emerge in all sectors and at all levels.

Among the first initiatives that have been raised in order to offer an integrated answer on growing problems caused by COVID-19, was the initiative from the Faculty of Political Science – Department of Social Policy and Social Work in Belgrade.  By gaining insight into the intentions of both students and professors to get involved as volunteers in fighting COVID-19, three social work practice instructors together with professors and associates decided to organize a Voluntary Service.

The starting idea was to invite all students and teachers willing to be engaged in the activities aimed to support social welfare professionals in all the activities addressing problems caused by the pandemic. Due to the circumstances of the pandemic, it was decided to organize an online resource, which will offer information and opportunities for volunteering in accordance with all the social work professional principles as well as other aspects of maintaining personal and collective health security.

The idea was widely supported, and so FPN KonekTaS was established in collaboration with UNICEF and with the financial support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The very first activity was conducting a survey to get insights into the needs of communities of practitioners in the social protection system for necessary services in an unprecedented situation. The survey results have shown the common need for stronger cooperation among all of us involved in social welfare in Serbia. A mapping of local initiatives created in response to the pandemic followed, and all relevant services and contacts were posted on the platform. Meanwhile, social work students have been engaged in continuous needs assessment for psycho-social and other support for social service workforce during the pandemic.

The data obtained through the survey, mapping and interviews with colleagues in the field, indicated that practitioners need to connect with other colleagues, to discuss current issues related to the pandemic, to learn from the experience of others, to hear the results of research, to get acquainted with the latest research, to get familiar with best practices, and to access maps of newly established services that arise in response to the urgent needs of particularly vulnerable social groups. And, most importantly, there was a need for concrete materials for practical and rapid use. Accordingly, we all quickly realized, that social care practitioners in the whole region are faced with similar problems and have a strong need to connect with colleagues from other countries, especially with those speaking the same language and having common professional backgrounds.

That is how the FPN KonekTaS, driven by the needs of a social workers’ community that is online and offline began to grow rapidly from a volunteering platform to a digital destination where social care practitioners in the social welfare system, the academic community and students of social work and social policy can meet and network with colleagues, can ask and get peer support, where they can share ideas and  experiences, and where they can be safe and professionally protected.

Since its beginning in April till the end of July 2020, the FPN KonekTaS platform has gathered over 850 contributors from Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and North Macedonia, and organized 8 webinars, 5 regional meetings, 10 supervision meetings and 20 discussion groups on the platform. The topics were conceptually oriented towards “helping helpers” and from the beginning they were a response to their originally examined needs. In this sense, the topics covered a wide range of needs: from specific techniques of personal mental health care in stressful situations, through the possibility of emergency care due to domestic violence during the COVID-19 crisis up to webinars on the role of the Red Cross during the COVID-19 crisis. The number of realized interactive activities in these circumstances seems impressive, but the development processes that followed them are actually an occasion for learning and articulating new models.

As resource for practical use for all, there are printable materials posted on the platform, including translations from different sources, such as IFSW Europe – International Federation of Social Workers, EASSW — European Association of Schools of Social Work, The Global Social Service Workforce Alliance, National Bank, etc, as well as different materials of  practical use authored by colleagues from Serbia and the neighbouring countries.

Convinced that we are connected by common goals that guide us in the education of social workers and that our academic activities contribute to improving the competencies and professional credibility of social workers, thus improving the quality of professional work and the quality of services we provide, we are inviting both students and professionals across the region and beyond to cooperate within the joint activities which we organize online through the FPN KonekTaS platform.

To get involved in already planned events or suggest new activities that we could implement together, to the satisfaction of all of us and in the interest of our users, contact us at  konektas@fpn.bg.ac.rs

You can also share information with your students, social work practitioners and teachers: http://www.fpn.bg.ac.rs/konektas.

The impact of COVID-19 on persons with disabilities across Europe

Persons with disabilities are among the most affected groups during the COVID-19 pandemic. The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) recently reported that the pandemic continues to affect the provision of essential services such as education, healthcare, community-based support and transport for persons with disabilities.

Magdi Birtha, European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research 

The Coronavirus outbreak still presents a major challenge at national and local levels across the EU and beyond. Persons with disabilities are among the most affected groups during the COVID-19 pandemic. The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) recently reported that the pandemic continues to affect the provision of essential services such as education, healthcare, community-based support and transport for persons with disabilities. Children with disabilities are facing particular barriers when it comes to accessing education and support, including challenges to take part in distance learning, without their assistants. In some countries, FRA noted that physical, occupational, speech and language therapy services for children with disabilities were suspended (e.g. in Malta) (FRA, 2020).

Service provision for persons with disabilities

Similarly, to the devastating impact of the pandemic on older people in residential homes, persons with disabilities who are living in institutional settings also face increased mortality rate due to COVID-19. For example, in Romania, 10% of the total COVID-related death were of persons with disabilities living in institutional care (FRA, 2020). While the majority of residential care facilities for persons with disabilities remained open during the outbreak, the service delivery had to be re-organised significantly, for instance by longer working hours for staff, operate with reduced staff (family duties, sick leave, burnout, resignations, etc.) and face additional administration (EASPD, 2020). Measures to ban visitations have been in place, in order to protect residents and limit the risk of contagion, often leading to isolation and difficulties to maintain contact with family members. The strict confinement measures and diversion from the routine may have negative impact on the well-being and mental health of persons with disabilities, thus the use of digital communication technologies or safe visitation forms are of key importance (EASPD, 2020).

Social and health care services, provided in the community or in-home have been suspended during the pandemic, leaving many persons with disabilities without access to essential services. As FRA reports, this includes cut-backs on personal assistance (e.g. in Slovakia), cancelling rehabilitation services (e.g. in Estonia) and the lack of access to psychosocial services (e.g. in Austria) (FRA, 2020). The European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD) reported that in 18 European countries, home care services were provided mostly online, during the pandemic, leaving thousands of people without adequate support (EASPD, 2020). The suspension of home-care services also put additional pressure on family members who needed to fill this gap and provide more informal care.

In general, there was little coordination or exchange of experiences or good practices within the care sector, or at national and European level.

Involvement of persons with disabilities in COVID-19 responses

Evidence shows that the voice of persons with disabilities was mostly absent from discussions on how to best respond to the crisis (FRA, 2020). The European Disability Forum, an umbrella organisation of persons with disabilities that defends the interests of over 100 million persons with disabilities in Europe, published several resources in relation to the impact of COVID-19 on persons with disabilities.

They provide recommendations to authorities, for instance on exit measures for transport services, in light of COVID-19 or on how to make public health communication accessible for persons with disabilities. EDF called authorities across Europe to put non-discriminatory measures in place, i.e. when health care professionals cannot provide the same level of care to everyone due to the lack of equipment or underfunding.

How to recover from the impact of COVID-19?

The economic and social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is still not fully assessed and will largely depend on the developments in the coming months, concerning a potential second wave. EASPD closely monitors the impact of COVID-19 on persons with disabilities and on the care sector. The EU has launched several recovery programmes for EU Member States, but there are also some instruments available for countries in the Western Balkans and in the Eastern Partnership. EASPD organised a webinar on 17 June 2020, dedicated to these COVID-19 EU funding opportunities for non-EU Member States, including:

Resources:

EASPD (2020), The impact of Covid-19 on disability services in Europe, EASPD Snapshot report, available here

EU Fundamental Rights Agency (2020), Bulletin #3: Coronavirus pandemic in the EU – Fundamental rights implications: with a focus on older people, available here