29.1. Short description
The association “Bimbo chiama bimbo” (child calls child) stems from the solidarity activities carried out at the end of the 1990s in favour of Croatian children hit by the war by a group of families close to a parish in the Brescia neighbourhood of Mompiano. In 2004 it was officially created as an association of volunteers. At the end of 2011 it counted 395 volunteers, committed to social, cultural and leisure activities. Its main target is the support of children and their families, through projects and collaborations with neighbourhood and municipality stakeholders, including schools. The objective is to sustain a “careful, supportive, respectful development of the children” (Associazione Bimbo chiama Bimbo 2012).
Interesting from a social innovation point of view is the attempt of the association to tackle different but interrelated needs of households with children in an encompassing way: the income need, the child care need, the parenthood support and socialisation need, the need for personal support and social relations, the need for social psychological counselling and the need for integration and participation of the young.
29.2. Conceptions and ways of addressing users
The different activities and services developed to tackle the needs of families can be grouped around three main areas:
- peer-to-peer and specialised family support;
- solidarity-based shopping;
- child education and care6.
Peer-to-peer and specialised family support
La Porta Accanto (“Next door”) is a service by families for families, in an attempt to support families in need in an encompassing way. Keywords guiding the service are receiving with a non-prejudicial attitude, listening (in order to be able to walk in others’ shoes), helping with immediate basic needs, and tutoring to regain autonomy. It was first born as a mutual help service, but has evolved during the years and is now coordinated by six employed workers.
The main available resources are:
- a front-desk for families who turn to the association in search of support;
- listening (350 meetings/year), with the presence of an educator;
- services available for free, also thanks to a network built with other territorial stakeholders;
- a 2,000 euro monthly budget to be distributed among families in need;
- “Supporting Families” (Famiglie d’Appoggio) sustain other families in temporary condition of disadvantage, in order to help them carry out some everyday activities (caring for children for a few hours, taking them to or from school, shopping, going to medical examinations, talking with children’s teachers) or achieving educational objectives (building a social network for those who have no relationships in the place where they live; achieving new abilities; school and relationship-building support for children). It is in fact a mutual help programme – mediated by the association with training, mediation, and the support of a psychologist – in which the supporting families also learn. Twenty-two families are supported in this way yearly.
- 0-12 un anno per cominciare a crescere (“0-12 a year to start grow up”) allows, since 2011 and thanks to a regional fund (24,000 euro/year), to support thirty families with new-born children for a year, to distribute fundamental goods (food, hygiene products, pharmacy vouchers and strollers), and to support mothers through a psychologist and a cultural mediator.
A solidarity-based Food Store (Magazzino Alimentare) was opened at the beginning of 2000. Beneficiaries are households in severe economic need and indicated by municipal social services or by the “Next Door” service of the association, or sent by other local associations. These families receive a voucher to be spent once a month in a space that resembles a mini-supermarket, for a value that varies according to family size and conditions. Households are met one by one by a secretary who keeps a personal and individual relationship with them. The voucher allows for a monthly shop for non-perishable food, cleaning products and personal hygiene. Also, since 2010, a weekly distribution of fresh food is organised: the beneficiaries are around 150 households, signalled by the Next Door service, plus the thirty households with new-born children part of the 0-12 regional project described above; the number of beneficiaries has increased in these years of crisis.
The volunteer-run food store opens four afternoons a week and on Saturdays, to facilitate the beneficiaries who work during the week. Twenty-eight unpaid collaborators guarantee this service, including young volunteers from the parish and Scout groups. Products to be distributed come from food collection organised by volunteers (products donated by private citizens at the exit of supermarkets), from selective wholesale purchases in big stores, or from a yearly agreement between Caritas and AGEA7. Fresh products are bought at forfeit price from other local social cooperatives and associations producing fruit, vegetables and dairy products.
The municipality pays a contribution to cover the cost of vouchers of beneficiaries selected by its social services, but the agreement has been reduced year after year, justified by the municipality with the reduction of available resources.
In another building of the association a large store (Guardaroba, “wardrobe”) collects used clothes and shoes, for men, women and children, together with a sector for cradles, strollers, toys and other stuff for babies, toddlers and children.
Around 500 users come from the whole city and even the province of Brescia. Most of them have two or three children. The clothes store is open three afternoons a week and on Saturdays. It is managed by fifty volunteers working in weekly shifts, including some adolescents. Given the high demand, and its increase in connection with the crisis, the shifts of volunteers to manage the service have been widened and the users are asked to make an appointment. A welcome office is available, to establish a personalised relationship with users, and a small separate space is prepared where volunteers play with children while adults choose the products they need.
Child education and care
The cooperative provides a service for families with children aged under 3 years (Centro Zero Tre, or “0-3 centre”), where children can live an educational experience with their parents or grandparents or child-minders, and other children, in a stimulating environment. The service aims at supporting the cognitive and emotional development of children, and the enhancement of relationships between adults and children, among children, and among adults themselves. It also aims at the confrontation and prevention of problems related to early childhood. It is open two mornings and three afternoons every week, for three hours. Around sixty families regularly attend the service (around ten children a day, divided in shifts); some other families have used the service on an occasional basis. The activities are mediated and organised by an educator, supported by assistants and volunteers. Some of the volunteers are mothers or grandmothers who used the service in the past or who are currently using it. The volunteers’ group reflects the heterogeneity of the (adult) users, including two men and five persons of immigrant background.
The initiative was inspired by a similar centre in Brescia, founded by the Catholic third sector stakeholder Caritas (A piccoli passi, or “tiny steps”). A national law (LN 285/97) has been financing projects for children carried out by local networks since the end of the 1990s, including parenting support and integrative and innovative child care services, promoted by public or non-public bodies (Costa and Sabatinelli 2011). The main strength of such services is the possibility to include families whose young children do not attend other services, such as day-care centres, and who might end up socially isolated in the delicate period of the early years of parenthood; especially, if they do not have a strong family and primary network where they live. The so-called integrative services, although slowly increasing, are still rather marginal in Italy, with a coverage rate of children aged under 3 years of 1.6 per cent in Italy and of 2.4 per cent in the Lombardy region (ISTAT 2013). Thus, such initiatives constitute an innovation in those territories (meaning also neighbourhoods) where they are lacking.
A service called Babysitting di emergenza (“emergency babysitting”) is organised by the cooperative to take care of children aged from 18 months to 6 years in the periods when day-care centres and kindergartens are closed. The principal targets are single mothers and families who cannot count on the family network for everyday child care. It is open in the summer and during the Christmas holidays from 7.30 am to 7.30 pm, in order to cover the differentiated working hours of parents. The aim of the service goes beyond mere baby-sitting. It intends to build an educational project, and a quality relationship with the children, although it is based on a time frame that is much shorter than in day-care centres, and in spite of the broad age range of attending children. Activities are based on specific routines: a wide outdoor space allows a variety of activities, especially during the summer. Staff include educators, assistant educators and volunteers.
In 2011, sixty-eight children were enrolled, with thirty-five of them attending every day on average. Six educators worked in the service, providing 1,500 hours of work, twenty hours of coordination, 20 hours of training and 6 hours of supervision. Fifty-eight volunteers aged between 13 and 17 years support educators. During the winter holidays the inside space allows a smaller number of children (twenty-five) to be received, and thus also fewer staff and volunteers are enrolled.
This service is the most expensive for the association, as it costs 40,000 euros a year. Families pay a weekly income-related fee, and, based on an official agreement, the Municipality of Brescia generally pays the fee for households with very low incomes or deprived conditions. In 2012 such coverage was nevertheless not granted, due to cuts to social expenditure in connection with national austerity programmes. Later, the agreement was reactivated, but the municipal contribution was fixed at a lower amount.
This service does not only have educational and socialisation value, but clearly also takes a crucial reconciliation function, since it covers exactly those (long) holiday periods in which – since education and care services are closed – many families hardly know to whom to entrust their children when they work. With the same spirit, the association recently started a programme to receive children aged from 2 to 6 years on Saturdays (opening hours from 8 am to 8 pm). Especially (although not only), children of working parents are welcome; here the reconciliation objective is either direct for parents who work on Saturdays, or indirect for parents who work during the week and must devote Saturdays to run personal and family errands.
29.2. Internal organisation and modes of working
The association is – by nature and definition – mostly managed by volunteers. Nevertheless, as some of the activities have grown in a rather massive way, a core team of employed workers was established (six persons), to grant coordination and professionalisation to the organisation, although the bulk of the work continues to be carried out by volunteers.
A peculiar feature of the association is the involvement of teenage volunteers (aged 13-17 years). Young volunteers who commit themselves to at least four hours a day in the babysitting service, but who are not yet professionally trained, are considered “assistant educators”, also with the aim to train those who could work as educators in the association in the future; adolescents with a low-income family background receive a small reimbursement.
Many members of the families who receive support from the association are also involved in activities for the maintenance of the association structures. The site where the association is currently located, for instance, was provided by the foundation of a Catholic body – the Congrega di Carità Apostolica – but it was autonomously restored, almost entirely by volunteer work. Alternatively, they are engaged in specific initiatives, according to their competences and skills. This approach is oriented at emphasising reciprocity and circularity of help, and reducing the dependency and feelings of passivity that may lead beneficiaries to sentiments of shame for their condition of need and stigma for their position of persons who receive help. Obviously, it is also aimed at reducing the costs of functioning of the whole association and of its single services.
29.4. Interaction with the local welfare system
The association is strongly embedded in the neighbourhood where it was created. The families who founded the first nucleus of the present association, after having come together for a solidarity project out of the city and of the country (in Croatia), later decided to commit also to local solidarity projects. They chose a rather peripheral neighbourhood (in the north of the city), comparatively deprived in terms of social infrastructure. The association is in fact very well known in the neighbourhood. Yet, as long as the activities of the association grew, increasing numbers of people in need from other areas of the city began to turn to the association.
The activities are carried out thanks to a territorial network of several stakeholders from the neighbourhood, the city and the province, including many third sector bodies, such as associations, cooperatives, foundations and parishes, but also public authorities and services. The sources of financing are diversified. The main resources come from:
- 5xmille: 5 per cent share of the amount of the taxes on personal income that taxpayers are free to target to bodies carrying out socially useful activities (e.g. various non-profit activities, scientific research). The association is one of the main receivers of this quota in the city of Brescia;
- agreements with the municipality, implying financing in exchange of the destination of part of the resources/services to beneficiaries signalled by the municipal social services (e.g. for the food store and the 0-3 centre);
- agreements with Caritas and local foundations;
- donations from supporters, which can also take the form of continuative bank transfers;
- self-financing activities (like a small market of handcraft products);
- voluntary work (see above).
The connection with the municipal social services does not only consist of the funds that the municipality devotes to the association to support some of its activities. There is a mutual signalling of cases of persons in need between the municipal social services and the association. Some of the cases are managed in a coordinated way by municipal social workers and the employees of the association.