Gary Westwater is an expert social worker with more than 40 years of experience in social work and has worked with international organisations such as UNICEF, UNDP, the Council of Europe, the European Commission and NGOs on the development and management of practical child protection strategies, the supervision of children at risk, formulating and reviewing child care plans and operating and managing services to children and young people in conflict with the law.
Gary travelled to Uzbekistan on behalf of PRI to deliver a Training of Trainers workshop for social workers who will train frontline professionals working with children in need of care and protection.
Leaving my base in Southern Croatia in mid-January, the prospect of getting to distant Tashkent amidst storms and flight cancellations was daunting. However, the leg with the most potential to cause difficulties – Dubrovnik to Zagreb – was overcome by the mayor of Zagreb’s famous determination not to let his city be paralysed by the worst snowfall in decades – (“If I have to, I’ll eat the snow”) The sight of six enormous snowploughs in convoy clearing the falling snow from the runway 24 hours a day was a memory to cherish.
Uzbekistan has a wide range of agencies with responsibility for the care and protection of children at risk, in contact with and in conflict with the law. The Commission of Minors and Agency for Guardianship and Trusteeship are responsible for cases involving children. However, their resources are limited and as there is no established and effective system of social workers, many children and families – who are already from some of the poorest sections of society – don’t receive the care and support they need.
The rationale of this training and staff development was to highlight the need for cross-cutting and overarching principles that inform both measures concerning children and young people in conflict with the law, and children at risk and in need of care and protection. It is recognised that often these children and young people are the same individuals.
My mission in Uzbekistan was to lead an intensive workshop which would enhance the skills of frontline professionals working with children and help to ensure that there are cross-cutting and overarching principles which inform both measures concerning children in conflict with the law and those at risk and in need of care and protection. I was supported by national trainers from SOS Kinderdorf Children’s Villages, with a group of six senior managers and practitioners from various regions of Uzbekistan.
Members of the trainers’ group included lawyers, social workers and pyschologists, who all shared their experiences in working with Commission of Minors, with the Guardianship and Trusteeship authorities, and within the framework of Uzbekistan’s local authority structure, the khokimiyats.
All participants reinforced the unique position and contribution of Uzbekistan’s 10,000-plus Makhallas, the self-governing community-based social welfare services. Makhallas play a central role in targeting social protection, by distributing assistance of one kind or another to those most in need, at a local level.
During this packed and intensive workshop, participants explored the principles and standards concerning children in need of care and protection and the mechanisms and machinery for making decisions about children for whom the state has a responsibility. The workshop included discussion on childhood development; the central importance of attachment; building blocks of resilience; and the impact of trauma and abuse. Participants were exposed to best practice and developments in communicating with socially excluded children and their families, the importance of effective assessment frameworks, and case management.
Following this training, the group will then begin a rolling programme of training for all workers in Uzbekistan’s Commissions for Minors and the staff of the Trusteeship and Guardianship bodies, and also to the police.
Has our input made a difference? New legislation designed to protect children and families has been passed in Uzbekistan in good faith. The endeavours of UNICEF, Penal Reform International and SOS should breathe life into these statutes, so that they make a difference to beleaguered families by enhancing skills of assessment; facilitating interventions in situation of risk, and making the best use of scarce resources.
For progress to continue, of particular importance is the continuing development of a formal social work curriculum at university level, which will help ensure social work becomes a valued and respected profession in Uzbekistan, a country whose population has a significant proportion of children and young people to care for.