More than 200 government delegates, academic and civil society representatives and UNICEF, along with other key stakeholders from 22 countries in Europe and Central Asia, gathered in Bucharest at a conference to create a common platform to support social workers and social services in region.
The importance of social work and social services
This high-level initiative is based on long-term regional monitoring and UNICEF's in-depth research into who are the professionals working in the so-called social sphere and what are the working conditions they are working in. UNICEF's Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia Afshan Khan said the successful social reforms observed in the region over the last ten years have proven the importance of social work and social services.
Relying on professional principles in social work
The conference presented a tool that assesses what types of professionals, para-professionals and non-professionals work in different areas of social work. This assessment focuses on data related to the qualification of social workers. This tool has been developed on the basis of an assessment of social systems in 4 countries in the region. It was discovered that there are social workers who are professionals and who are without qualifications. This topic has led to debates. Given the complexity of the issues that social work deals with, as well as the ambitious tasks assigned to it to integrate permanently marginalized people and groups, it is not ethical to assume that social work can be performed by people without education in this sphere.
"It is about time to become much more specific and to have strategic thinking about the professionalization of social workers and to ensure that our investments have maximum impact. UNICEF is committed to working with governments in the region in the coming years. "
Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia
Long-term support for workers in the social professions
The main argument put forward by the participants in the conference was that professional support and advocacy for vulnerable and traumatized groups of children and adults can be achieved by investing in social workers and professionalisation of social work. UNICEF agreed with the participating countries on the creation of a regional agenda to address the challenges of the social worker's profession as well as to undertake actions to support workers in the social professions by improving working conditions and wages that, according to conference attendees should be comparable to those of doctors and teachers.
"The social workers in Bulgaria have gained a lot of experience. It is therefore important that the guild of social workers in our country starts to regulate the development of the profession through its professional organization. There is an expectation and willingness in the community of social workers to put more meaning in the experience, create quality standards and a license regime. UNICEF's work on this topic can help this process.
The conference addresses a common problem in the region - the lack of understanding of the role of the social system. This system is thought to spend on the resources of the state, instead it should be thought of as investing in people in order to guarantee their right to invest in the development of the community. Achieving this task requires skills. And since the integration of people excluded from the community is entrusted to social workers, they must possess these skills in order to be able to implement policies. Otherwise, these policies remain on paper. "
Dr. Galina Markova, New Bulgarian University
Specialists in child protection, healthcare, education, early childhood development, migration, justice and youth rights will explore good practices to develop a plan for supporting and developing social workers through a systematic, multisectoral and multidisciplinary approach. A key role in this process at the local level will be played by professional organizations. The Bulgarian delegation said that at the beginning of the year it will propose the first steps in this direction.