- Slideshow: Modernizing Croatia’s Social Services
Croatia’s social welfare system was heavily reliant upon traditional administrative mechanisms and the past legacy of institutionalizing social services. The system was strictly centralized, leaving little freedom for practitioners on the ground to decide what is best for their clients. Most social services were provided almost entirely inside institutions, with few alternatives allowing the beneficiaries to remain with their families and communities. Due to the absence of a computerized management system, social workers spent more time on paperwork than helping their clients. To find out about their rights and entitlements, potential beneficiaries had to consult various institutions, and even then, it was difficult to ascertain exactly the kind of assistance they required or were entitled to. The living standards in some residential institutions were questionable.
The Social Welfare Development Project (SWDP) was designed to assist the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in modernizing the quality and delivery of social services to the most vulnerable and needy in Croatian society, and to improve the administration of the overall social welfare system, including the living and working conditions in the social welfare institutions. The goal was to create a more client-focused, well-managed, and user-friendly system, with a guiding principle of helping clients achieve, to the extent possible, self-reliance, which required the system to provide a variety of well-targeted social services of consistent quality. The project also developed an information management system to automate the social welfare institutions, establish a registry of social welfare beneficiaries, and create an electronic data exchange system to make the system more transparent, remove overlaps, and improve its efficiency and effectiveness.
Between 2006 and 2011, SWDP made the following achievements:
- Thirty-four innovative community-based social services projects have been supported through the Innovation and Learning Program (ILP),which provide alternative community-based social services for 8,620 persons: . institutionalization was directly prevented for 622 beneficiaries, 533 others were offered rehabilitation, 28 were deinstitutionalized and various other innovative social services were provided for 7,437 additional beneficiaries.
- Twenty-five social service quality standards were developed and already implemented in all state-owned residential social welfare homes and centers for social welfare.
- Seventy-three percent of public social welfare residential institutions for children and adults now meet public health standards, as opposed to 30 percent in 2006, benefitting 4,872 clients and 2,184 employees.
- New business procedures were developed and implemented in social welfare centers based on the one-stop-office principle, allowing social workers to spend less time on administration and more with clients, and clients to get all the necessary information at one place.
- Fourteen social welfare centers were constructed or upgraded to function as a one-stop-office.
- A county-level social planning methodology was developed and multiyear social service development plans were prepared for 10 counties.
- The new social welfare Management Information System has been piloted in three counties and is awaiting national deployment.
The total project costs were €68.6 million; €30.9 million was funded by IBRD and €36.2 million by the Government of Croatia. The remaining €1.4 million was provided by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA).
The IBRD team worked closely with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, which was responsible for the implementation of the SWDP. SIDA provided grant funding of €1.4 million for the development of specific policy recommendations and tools to assist the Government in implementing its deinstitutionalization approach and introducing prevention and social inclusion policies. The European Commission has been regularly consulted on project implementation. The UN Development Programme was involved in supporting the development of social services master plans for several counties, based on the new social planning methodology.
The SWDP supported the development of innovative social services models through community-driven projects that helped prevent the institutionalization of poor and other socially vulnerable persons, and assisted in the deinstitutionalization and reintegration into society of those who had been confined. The program design ensured that only proposals demonstrating the sustainability of project activities after the end of Bank financing were considered. Formal partnerships with local governments were also required. In cases where new employment was proposed, a written pledge from the local government to continue project financing after Bank funding terminates was secured. Local governments have recognized the importance of the newly provided services and in some cases, broadened the scope of ongoing projects.
Marija Ozbolt had been taking care of her mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, until three years ago, when it became increasingly difficult. A new center in Pula opened to support adults with varying stages of dementia and their families, the first center in Croatia offering counseling for family members to learn how to handle a loved one’s illness and living situation. Ongoing consultations and daycare support have helped many patients stay with their families, while the center provides 24-hour expert care for the most severe cases.
One such case is Marija’s mother. “At the center my mother is cared for 24 hours a day. She receives all the necessary care. At home we could not provide her that and this center has made a big difference in our lives. It is a safe place for those who can’t cope on their own and a lifesaver for those taking care of them while holding down a job.”