BUILDING KNOWLEDGE BY SHARING EXPERIENCES
REFLECTIONS ON STUDY VISIT TO ROMANIA IN 10–14.10.2016
Central Union for Child Welfare
Central Union for Child Welfare, Emma & Elias Programme
Sippola State Residential School
Kymenlaakso University of Applied Sciences
About the Finnish group
FICE-Finland and FICE-Romania have a remarkable history in terms of organizing bilateral study visits and learning by sharing experiences based on the expertise of professionals working with children, young people and families. The Finnish delegation was invited to visit Romania in October 2016. This time the number of delegates was higher than usually because a group of MA level students from the Kymenlaakso University of Applied Sciences participated in the exchange. Altogether, delegation consisted of 15 participants: three from the Central Union for Child Welfare, two from Sippola State Residential School and 10 from the Kymenlaakso University of Applied Sciences (one teacher and nine students). Each student had professional background and practical work experience at least for three years.
The composition of the Finnish delegation offered us a chance for discussions concerning our own experiences and practices as the members did not know each other before the visit. This, however also posed challenges when it comes to preparations and orientation. All delegates have a link to social services, but work in varying areas and branches. Thus, it after all was a fruitful setting. Everyone from their perspective found the visit very good.
About the topics and programme
The hosts had organized a very rich and many-sided programme. It included discussions with professionals, field visits, international symposium on “Case Management in Child Protection”, meeting at the “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University of Iasi and cultural programme in Vaslui, Bârlad and Iasi. The symposium illuminated the topic of case management in the Romanian child protection system. Presentations and discussions revealed that there are parallel ongoing trends in our countries. For instance, in both countries the number of clients for a case manager or a social worker is not on an ideal level and the work load can be enormous.
The idea of case management seemed to us to be roughly the same in both countries. In Finland, there has been a trend to form multidisciplinary ad hoc teams to work with a client (or family). A big-scale social and health care sector reform is taking place in Finland. Service production will be based on county-level administration instead of the current municipality level approach. Therefore, we found it especially important to obtain information about the Romanian system.
One interesting topic is education. This applies to social sector in general and case management particularly. Educational requirements to different occupations and operations are in the move, allegedly in both countries. The role of psychologists seemed to us to be more significant in Romanian system than in Finnish one.
We had an opportunity to meet a number of both service-users and practitioners. We visited five residential settings for both children and adults and got acquainted with different kinds of professional areas. We heard, for example, about the work with children and adults with disabilities, with experience of abuse, neglect and domestic violence, work in crisis situations and in foster care. In the General Directorate of Social Assistance and Child Protection, Iasi, we discussed e.g. the social problems in the area in general and in the rural area in particular as well as the challenges in responding to the needs of children and families. Poverty and lack of education were identified as the most crucial elements behind the high numbers of abuse and neglect in the area.
We also had a pleasure to meet students, including one Finnish exchange student, at their daily work and representatives of the Iasi University. Challenges that Universities are facing appeared quite like the ones in Finland. Also, the students have a similar orientation to the unsecure future, occupational opportunities have a big impact in their choices. We found the atmosphere and even the buildings at the university very fine and homelike.
What did we learn?
The Romanian colleagues enriched us in many ways. All participants found the exchange positive and very informative. Discussions reminded that by looking at the foreign systems and practices it is possible to learn something about our own society as well. Contradictions embedded in our professional field become more visible while reconsidering them with colleagues working with similar questions in another societal context. For example, we shared similar experiences in relation to the controversial dynamics between policies and practices in our countries. In both countries, the legislation seems to be quite right, what is problematic is the so-called implementation gap. This gap has a lot to do with the resources but also practices in each field and with co-operation between disciplines. Many questions, of course, remain unanswered. The interaction between institutions and their environment is complicated. Administration and funding are important, but so is the culture too. However, children’s needs do not vary much from culture to culture.
Co-operation between public authorities and civil society organisations seemed to be well organized and functioning. We have a feeling that there is much more to learn for us in this respect. Volunteering as a part of organisations’ activities is gathering strength among Romanians and internationally. When it comes to tendering and contracting, the questions and answers are not only between the two nations but have a common European Union framework too. Because of the social sector reform these issues are very topical for us right now.
Furthermore, we discussed the implementation of human rights and especially the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in everyday life and in our professional settings. How do we make sure that for instance the principles of the best interests, individuality and privacy of each child are respected in an adequate way in our professional practices? We shared a mutual understanding that work with children and families is a highly contested field with many ethical dilemmas.
We had a chance to see child care work in action and to experience the relations of children and professionals in various care settings. These encounters seemed and felt to be full of commitment and many other positive features. At the same time, we became aware of the limited resources and the small client/staff ratio. Even though the minimum child/staff ratio in the Finnish children’s home is 1:1, we find it too low in many cases. We found the way individuals were working, very impressing. It was not necessarily the techniques or methods, that impressed us, but the atmosphere and touch the employees had in various settings. The way many employees could put together professional skills and personality and warmth seemed unique to us.
We also discussed violence in both private areas (such as domestic violence) and in public care settings as well as campaigning against all forms of violence. The Finnish empirical studies have pointed out the significant change in attitudes towards violence during the past 30 years. These results encourage us to advocate for positive parenting and the non-violent growing environments because they underline the importance of awareness training. Even though there is an ongoing need for such advocacy work, it is worthwhile. From Finnish experience, we can state that prohibiting corporal punishment in and by legislation was a right thing to do in Romania as well. It does not change things overnight, but in decades it seems to have remarkable effect to children’s living conditions.
The Finnish delegation feels both grateful and inspired after having the opportunity to attend this study visit. The hospitality of our hosts in each place was impressing.