EU inspires grassroots reform of social services in Ukraine

Identifying the real needs of people, decentralising functions through cooperation with NGOs, and decentralising financing are among the key messages promoted by an EU Twinning project on social policy in Ukraine.

Beneficiaries of the EU-funded Project Twinning, «Support for the Development of the Social Services System in Ukraine»

The project came to an end last month after two years of extensive work to improve the Ukrainian system of social services. The initiative made a significant impact in Ukrainian society, particularly among the grassroots social services workers who had an opportunity to learn from the EU experience.

Halyna Shevchenko has been involved with the project since its very beginning in 2012. Having worked for 14 years as a social worker in Zaporizhya, she is well acquainted with social issues.

Halyna Shevchenko, social worker at Zaporizhya department on social services

Her profession has led her to work with many different categories of people who need social support. Social work, “demands lots of energy and emotions, because our work is to solve people’s problems,” she says, though she adds that, “when the problem is solved thanks to your work, you get moral satisfaction.

During Shevchenko’s involvement with the Twinning project, she had the opportunity to work with EU experts in social policy and to implement European practices in her work.

She says that one of the best practices that should be implemented in Ukraine is closer cooperation between authorities and NGOs in the social sphere. Her team took this approach during a Twinning project initiative to feed homeless people in Zaporizhya oblast.

“We invited NGOs to implement this activity,” she says, explaining that, “delegating functions to the non-governmental sector will help reduce costs.” For instance, in order to feed homeless people in the winter, there was no need to create a specialised agency and to incur extra expenses: Zaporizhya authorities entrusted this project to an NGO experienced in providing social services.

Another principle learned from the EU is, “addressing the need when it first appears,” says Shevchenko. This strategy was applied through her department’s initiative to establish centres of psychological rehabilitation for disabled soldiers based in current centres for professional rehabilitation in Zaporizhya oblast. Shevchenko explains that “soldiers went through a huge amount of stress, and many of them became disabled. It is our duty to help them in adapting to a new life.”

Her colleague, Kateryna Savchuk, is a social worker from the Khmelnytskiy department of social protection. She has been working in the social services sphere since 2002 and started her career as a volunteer.

Kateryna Savchuk, social worker at Khmelnytskiy department of social protection

The Twinning project helped her to understand the intent of the EU social reforms, and the benefits of decentralisation and delegation of functions to NGOs. She assumes, however, that there is “no complex approach to social sector reforms in Ukraine, or a clear vision of its outcome.”

For instance, decentralisation requires corresponding competent NGO contractors, which are often difficult to find in Ukrainian regions. She suggests that a lack of competency in providing social care can be solved by governmental training program for NGOs,” which “would prepare them to provide social services.”

She also suggests launching “an awareness campaign for citizens regarding the nature and the intended outcomes of these reforms.” She explains that many people may be afraid of reforms, seeing them as something new and unknown. She says, “The reform will work if people understand what it is about.”

Speaking with these social services workers, one can see they have been inspired by European social practices and are enthusiastic to implement the most promising EU examples here in Ukraine.

The question still remains, however, of whether these EU practices will be efficiently implemented at every level of Ukrainian society.

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