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Restructuring of social welfare on the cards, minister says

Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou

Social welfare services are set to be reformed and modernised based on three pillars, as this year alone they have dealt with thousands of abuse claims involving women and children, the labour minister said on Saturday.

According to a statement from Minister Zeta Emilianidou read out by the director of the welfare services, Maria Kyratzi, as of this year, 519 children are currently in the care of the welfare services.

She added that another 1,289 cases of domestic abuse were dealt with in the past year, along with 2,713 cases that necessitated welfare’s intervention.

Social workers also provided counselling to 4,229 people and conducted research on 6,848 cases to prepare a report for independent authorities, services, ministries, police, and organisations.

Presenting the new modernisation strategy at an event for the Association for the Prevention and Handling of Violence in the Family (Spavo), the labour minister’s speech said the goal was to improve the accessibility of services.

“Dealing with violence is multifaceted. At the first level is prevention, which includes informing, raising awareness and educating civil society as a whole,” said the minister. “In addition to prevention, one of the most important issues is the treatment, support and counselling of victims of violence in order to minimise the negative effects of abuse.”

The new strategy comes in the wake of a recent incident that put welfare back in the spotlight after an abused toddler was rushed to hospital with injuries, even though his case had been reported to the department at least a month prior. Some reports said concerned neighbours had first alerted authorities a year ago when the 19-month-old child was a baby. An investigation has been launched.

Last September a 15-year-old had committed suicide after he and his siblings and his mother had suffered years of psychological and physical abuse at the hands of his father. A damning report concluded “utter criminal negligence” had been shown by the four social welfare officials involved in that case as they had first been alerted in 2007, and between 2011 and 2013 when the number of incidents escalated. The welfare department has constantly cited understaffing when such incidents come to light.

According to Emilianidou, the first phase of the new plan is to contract a team that will undertake the management of the social welfare services aiming to implement the new strategy within a deadline and in line with budgets.

The procurement tender for the team is expected to be announced this month.

In the second phase a list of experts will be created to prepare and promote actions to implement in the restructuring of the welfare services.

At the same time, the establishment of multidisciplinary groups is being promoted, the work of which will seek holistic evaluation and intervention according to the needs of the individual and the family.  Professionals from various specialties and government services will offer holistic evaluation and intervention on issues that arise.

She said, the tender is expected to be launched in the coming days, and the professionals for the multidisciplinary groups (who are not part of the tender process) will be secured in October.

Then, welfare services are expected to provide chaperones and mentors for children who are either in child and adolescent protection institutions or are still within families and are facing issues there.

Thirdly, the social welfare services plan to use their own resources to prepare actions in restructuring the department, ahead of the involvement of the management team.

“One of the main pillars is further investment at the local level and the strengthening of synergies with the local community,” the minister said in her speech.

She added the reasoning was because the local community is the first point of contact for the individual or the family.

The local level will be able to research and promote the needs, problems, and sensitivities of each community.

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