Faced with a quickly declining economy and a drastically increasing poverty rate, the Moldovan government has entered a three-way partnership between Children’s Emergency Relief International. the United Nations Children Fund and Moldova’s Ministry of Social Protection, Family & Child.
The partnership’s first goal is to help move half of the children living in institutions into the homes of their biological families or into licensed family homes. The second is to improve and promote the network of government social workers, called social assistants, who will do the majority of the work related to the deinstitutionalization strategy.
Key to the three-member partnership is the placement of CERI social worker Jon Meyer as senior adviser to the Ministry of Social Protection, Family & Child.
Meyer plans to reduce the number of children in government-owned orphanages. He also is designing a model of professional supervision for the government social workers. Since it is a new profession, few social workers in Moldova have the education and experience needed to do their job, he said. Professional supervision will help them grow and ensure effective work.
Based on Meyer’s experience, socialist mindsets create barriers for the work. For example, many people feel because children make friends, obtain education and are fed in the institutions, orphanages are a better place to live. They believe the state can do a better job than the family in providing for children.
Meyer is co-chairing a work group that includes representatives from all the key government and nongovernment organizations addressing deinstitutionalization. In addition, Meyer has been traveling across the country visiting social assistants to obtain first-hand knowledge of their working conditions.
“The social assistants’ working conditions are very difficult because all transportation is done by foot. Many hitchhike to the regional office several times a month, and very few have computers or a private work space for counseling,” Meyer said.
Learning from American history and CERI’s role in moving institutionalized children in Texas from mass-dormitories to home settings, Meyer gives the social assistants of Moldova a basic philosophy to follow in their work—take note of human need; develop a plan; learn the necessary skills to carry out the plan; then consistently and persistently implement the plan.
“I encourage them to look for services that are needed in their communities, find support from cohorts and colleagues from all disciplines, develop solutions at their level of work and participate whenever possible in larger plans that will improve the profession and thereby improve services to those in need,” Meyer said.
CERI sent Meyer to Moldova, believing social work can dramatically impact society from the individual and family levels to community and national levels.
“We have the great opportunity to lead and develop the profession of social assistants in Moldova and thus greatly improve the social welfare of the country and, in particular, the most vulnerable among us,” Meyer said.
Some of the tasks given to Meyer are simple projects with big benefits that in the past Moldova lacked resources to accomplish. One project was creating a simple database to record the number of children discharged, admitted and living in residential institutions each month For the most part, the Moldovan government has no up-to-date knowledge regarding the flow of children in and out of its 67 institutions.
“In addition to his expertise in encouraging the profession of social assistants and equipping them with necessary resources to do their jobs, Jon has given me support through our conversations and interactions stemming from our mutual relationship with Christ,” said UNICEF Deputy Vice Minister Lucia Gavrilita. “We can pray together for various concerns regarding the deinstitutionalization process.”