When I saw the light in her eyes, I felt we had chosen the right path and are doing the right things. The little girl’s name is Melek (name changed) who lost her mother at birth - her father got into deep depression, taking care of older child and his sick mother, working to sustain the family and having no additional support to provide proper care for the newborn. As we many in such a situation, Melek’s father placed her in the Baby home with a promise to visit and take back when she reaches the age of three. The new specialized service for reintegration of children from Baby houses in Lebap region helped her family to reconnect, strengthen their bonds and reunite going through a complex process of reintegration.
When the representative of the specialized service approached the Baby Home with a proposal to support children in reintegration to their families, Melek just turned one. The team of social work specialist and a psychologist worked with the father, mobilizing resources of extended family and preparing the reintegration plan. At the same time there was intensive work on building parental competencies and re-establishing healthy attachment between Melek and her father, sister, and grandmother.
“When my wife deceased, I thought that keeping the newborn in the Baby house with full care from professionals is best for my baby. However, social worker explained about importance of family environment for healthy development of my child, and when I made this decision of bringing her back home, I didn’t expect that I would get so much support from my mother and sister for caring about my baby”, added Melek’s father.
His mother died shortly after, and her last wish for her children was to support Melek in coming back home. Melek joined the family at the age of one year and one month. She stays at her aunt’s house, who is taking good care of her, while her father is at work. Her older sister comes to play with her and they have big weekend plans to have father – daughter time with her sister. The work is in progress and social work specialist continue to provide complex support to the family, further building the parental competencies, supporting in reintegration of Melek in the community, and keeping up the family’s motivation for this change, ensuring that Melek never loses her family again.
This is one of the many success stories that I have witnessed during my trip to the region. It is gratifying that with the support of the UN Country Team in Turkmenistan, the Government is expanding and modernizing its range of social services, having introduced the concept of social work and developed a national model of inclusive social services at the local level within the first ever Joint Programme on community-based social services.
It all started in 2020 when the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of Population recruited 45 state-funded social workers who, after appropriate training in the theory and practice of social work, started providing services in twenty etraps in Ashgabat and five velayats around Turkmenistan.
Since then, the government has adopted the Law on Social Services and developed the regulatory by-laws to support the reformed community-based social services in the country.
The Joint Programme has introduced inclusive, quality social services at local level. Adapted to delivery in the context of the pandemic, it supports socially excluded and low-income households to be more resilient in the face of the social and economic impacts of COVID-19.
Here is another case, shared by another social work specialist:
“Her husband died, she never worked before, she had to return to her parents with her child, but she didn’t want to. We helped her to put her child into the kindergarten and to find a work in a canteen. Several months later she found a better place to work and now she works as Chef’s assistant in the local restaurant. She is now independent and can raise her only child herself. She often comes to our center just to share her news”.
Building rapport both with service users and different service providers helps social workers be more efficient in their work. Despite short period of their work, new social workers proved themselves to be successful in implementing their responsibilities. They gained much recognition by government agencies and CSOs involved in social service provision.
“It took a while for us to develop necessary skills and now most of my colleagues are building bridges between different agencies and social service providers so that beneficiaries would have an opportunity to use all available resources in their communities,” said Mergen Sahetliyev, social work specialist.
Social work specialists have reached out to around 5000 people working over 1000 cases that include people in need of all ages and with all types of disabilities. In 85% of cases, families received one or more pensions or allowances, and yet additional support was needed. Social work specialists have conducted needs assessments of vulnerable groups, developed individual support plans together with beneficiaries and started to provide professional support at community level.
“We have to love our work to be able to help people”, noted Lola Hydyrova from Farab district, one of 45 new social work specialists. She was new in this profession. She benefited from series of capacity building workshops on foundations of social work and social services together with 106 social work managers, 67 representatives of governmental and non-governmental social service providers, and 79 representatives of allied workforce. Thus, the foundation was set to pilot new community-based and specialized social services that include services for families with children with disability.
I heard these stories from social workers during my recent visit to Turkmenabat, Lebap region. I am glad that within this Joint Programme we provide support to all vulnerable groups including children at risk of separation from parents, children without parental care, children with disabilities, youth at risk, women experiencing gender-based violence, adults with disabilities, older persons living alone, and others in need of support with basic everyday care. It is important that they have access to quality, community-based social services provided by professional social workers and qualified social service providers to address their individual needs and ensure their social inclusion.
By saying social inclusion, we strive to ensure equal opportunities for all and that everyone, regardless of their background, can achieve their full potential in life. The Joint Programme partners have developed a model of social services that will ensure that those in vulnerable groups gain access to the opportunities and resources necessary to participate fully in economic, social, and cultural life.
The Joint Programme on community-based social services was launched by the Government of Turkmenistan and UNICEF, UNDP, UNFPA, and UNODC and funded by the Joint SDG Fund in 2020, whose donors are member states of the United Nations, the European Union, international agencies, the private sector and individuals.
You can find more information on the results and achievements of the Joint Progamme implementation here.
To ensure sustainability of the Joint Programme results, the draft National Social Services Development Plan (NSSDP) - a strategic roadmap until 2030, was developed and proposed to the government. It also laid the ground for the Phase II Joint programme development with anticipated government co-financing and as a result received funding from the Joint SDG Fund Development Emergency Modality that will scale up of the community based social services to every district of the country.