1.1 Short description
Within the IV component frame of accession assistance (IPA) “Development of human resources”, the Ministry of Health and Social Care (currently the field is within the Ministry of Social Politics and Youth) implemented the project “Establishing support in social integration and employment of disadvantaged and marginalised groups.” The estimated duration of the project was 22 months, and it commenced in late 2010. The overall objective is to promote social inclusion of long-term unemployed beneficiaries of social assistance through the provision of support for their inclusion in the labour market. The purpose of this project is to develop an approach based on the needs of the users to access the labour market. The project consists of two interrelated components, in accordance with which it wishes: 1) to empower cross-sectorial and inter-agency cooperation in the field of employment and social inclusion; and 2) to improve the quality of services in centres for social care aimed at the inclusion of long-term unemployed to help support the market.
The project was connected to JIM (Joint Memorandum on Social Inclusion) and its measures relate to social services and referrals by customising and integrating social services, giving customers choices and improving the quality of professional services in the welfare system. There is observable impact of Europeanization and EU convergence. These changes are intended to modernise the system to be more in line with criteria and standards of the European Union, and to improve the quality of social services. In addition, previously prepared and tested reform concepts and intellectual potential are seen in other countries, which then are transmitted to Croatia via the influence of foreign stakeholders. Here we find that not only is the project funded by the IPA, but also the core project team is from international consulting and other agencies. Doubts remain as to whether these experts know the Croatian social policy system, values and characteristics of action, and whether they lack contextual elements regarding planning and execution of the programme.
We can distinguish between the economic and political aspects of this invention taking into consideration that there is a lack of programmes that help and support social integration and employment of disadvantaged and marginalised groups. The economic aspect is their possible inclusion in the labour market. This will be step forward in dealing with marginalised and long-term unemployed, which is a group with specific social risks and is difficult position in the labour market. The political dimension of the action is in the goals of the project, which are to modernise the social care system in line with criteria and standards in EU countries.
1.2. Conceptions and ways of addressing users
The goal of the project is to improve the quality of service in social work aimed at long-term unemployed beneficiaries and their retention in the labour market. Training for social service mentoring was conducted related to skills for setting up the basic principles and tools necessary for its implementation. Mentors for social inclusion, in the testing of model of social mentoring, applied their knowledge and expertise to effectively connect theory and practice in order to define the final model that is applicable at the national level. Social mentoring is an extremely important component of the social inclusion process because it provides an individualised approach to working with long-term unemployed beneficiaries of social assistance or socially disadvantaged and marginalised groups. It is directed to enhance their involvement in the labour market. That kind of approach is innovative in our context. The model is based on the assumption that social workers will provide individual programmes to their clients by using some of the key elements of mentoring (duration of the relationship, quality of the relationship, continuity, empowerment, empathy, and communication based on feedback, active listening, etc., goal setting) as soft skills. Through the guidance of an individual plan and social mentoring, centres for social care will address potential structural, personal and world-view barriers that might prevent access to the labour market or other activities to long-term unemployed users of social assistance. The goal is to motivate people who are the most marginalised and the most distant from the labour market by focusing on their strengths and potential. In some cases, participants progress to employment, training or further education, while others gain increased self-confidence and increased strength and willingness to participate in further opportunities for self-development. Expected results are not only in labour market activity. Taking into account the level of social exclusion experienced by some users, such results improve quality of life, and further education and increased social and basic skills are of equal importance and in some cases may be a step towards potential inclusion in the labour market.
1.3. Internal organization and mode of working
Analysis of the practices of services in the field of social inclusion and employment was conducted in order to strengthen inter-sector and inter-institutional cooperation in the field of social inclusion and employment. Eight working groups necessary for the development of models of social mentoring were formed based on the consultation process. Each of the working groups involved approximately 20 representatives of various institutions (centres for social care, the Croatian Employment Service, NGOs, social partners, representatives of cities, counties, etc.). The results of the consultation, as well as results of the implemented activities, contributed to the preparation of the draft of the “Code of Conduct” in the provision of services to long-term unemployed beneficiaries of social assistance.” In addition, representatives of the Directorate of Social Welfare of Ministry of Health and Social Care (now the Ministry of Social Politics and Youth), centres for social care and the Croatian employment service have contributed to the development of protocols that was signed by the stakeholders mentioned above. Testing of the model of social mentoring was conducted in the initial phase of social mentoring. The testing phase model included professionals who had undergone training on social mentoring. Each of the skilled workers had chosen several people who, via their professional work, were using skills and knowledge that they gained through education on social mentoring. During this phase, two meetings were held on the principle of “learning from colleagues” (peer learning) to discuss the experiences in relation to the model of social mentoring and the intention of the discussion was to devise solutions for the difficulties professional workers encountered. Via this activity, experts that worked on the implementation of the project developed the “Handbook of self-evaluation”, which served as a tool for qualified workers providing instructions and information on the development, management and successful implementation of social mentoring, focusing on the long-term unemployed. The handbook will help future sustainability of the social mentoring approach by enhancing the approach with new solutions for contextual problems and providing a firm basis for further expansion of the model.
The social benefits of mentoring for the users are stated satisfaction with the informal and individual approach, a realistic assessment of needs, possible actions and results, improved knowledge, development of potential, and building self-esteem. Benefits for professionals are increased capabilities and self-esteem because of the adoption of new knowledge and skills; satisfaction with enhanced services for users, especially in compliance with quality standards, increased motivation to work, good feelings in dealing with customers, learning through supervision and learning from colleagues.
1.4. Interaction with the local welfare system
Within the project, the action plan for media campaigns to raise public awareness of the needs of vulnerable groups was developed. The campaign aimed to raise awareness and inform the public about the issue and to create a climate to provide support to vulnerable and marginalised groups. Moreover, the purpose of the campaign was to activate a wide range of relevant stakeholders, on local and national levels, involved in the integration of disadvantaged and marginalised groups, such as social welfare institutions, civil society organizations, public institutions, social partners, local communities, to become actively engaged in spreading awareness and providing support for socially vulnerable groups. The campaign was designed to transmit a message to the general public, but also to all project stakeholders and potential partners in order for them to become familiar with the problems of socially vulnerable and marginalised groups related to access to the labour market. Through a campaign, the right to work as one of the citizens’ basic rights was advocated as key to the prevention of social exclusion. This kind of action is aimed to have a wider impact with the expected result that the goals of this project would become rooted in the general public but also among all partners in the project. This seems important for the sustainability of the project and future work.
Awareness of stakeholders together with the results of social mentoring should open the option to extend the programme and other similar activities within the local social policy. Thus, four public forums entitled “Social inclusion of vulnerable groups – challenges and solutions” were organised. In addition, in order to strengthen cooperation between stakeholders at the local level and promote the social model of mentoring to support social inclusion and employment, the project organised eight seminars entitled “Promotion of cooperation in the field of social inclusion and employment.” Providing training for a larger group of social experts, prospective mentors for social inclusion and the creation of a manual for social mentoring will affect the further expansion of access to social mentoring through social policies and facilitate the adoption of its principles of action.
In conclusion, the goal was to educate a group of experts who would have knowledge, skills and tools to foster social inclusion of long-term unemployed beneficiaries of support, or socially disadvantaged and marginalised groups through the provision of support for their inclusion in the labour market by social mentoring model. In the long term, social inclusion would strengthen the social and economic cohesion. The project created a new kind of collaboration and networking. It promoted the following basic goals and tasks: providing quality services to more users, improving the quality, effectiveness and efficiency, encouraging innovation and new ideas, using the experience that each partner brings, and directing more resources to the provision of services rather than the multiplication of administration and infrastructure.
This project contributes to and is based on creating new kinds of partnerships, networks in the local community and to stimulate new form of governance, which puts the emphasis on using the available resources of state, municipal and private bodies. The project has the potential to be transferable to other cities as example of crosscutting principle of providing services for long-term unemployed and marginalised groups. Capacities and knowledge of social mentoring is especially promising to widening the project’s approach in future. Social mentoring is an innovative model of work in social welfare and involves a partnership between professionals and users with the aim of activating and motivating them to change. Social mentoring is an extremely important component of the process of social inclusion because it provides individualised approach to the long-term unemployed beneficiaries or socially disadvantaged and marginalised groups and their integration into the labour market. Mentoring is a model for social improvement of service quality and customer satisfaction, which is one of the priorities of welfare reform.
Ultimately, the goal of the project was to ensure full adoption of new tools and practices in Croatian institutions as result of activities and knowledge gained on the project. The task of the project was to support the development of strategies to increase the number and quality of services based on their needs, and help professionals in institutions involved in the project with adaptation needed to introduce and use newly acquired tools.
There are some key challenges for future of the programme. Regarding the centres for social care: reorganization of work (training of social workers on the tools and skills of social mentoring, creating a network of mentors) for future expansion of the model. Regarding local communities: building a network of services, coordination through local partnerships, and engaging in a process of social planning. At the system level: creating a common ground through key documents (laws, regulations, protocols and guidelines). In addition, there are some key difficulties for scaling up of the project. The main difficulty is lack of time and difficult working conditions of overburdened social workers, lack of network providers – the differences between counties, the lack of financial resources to support users in some activities, and high expectations regarding employment.