Family Strengthening in Latvia
Family strengthening programme offers variety of services
Single mother Ieva suffers from multiple sclerosis and is unable to work. She lives in a small apartment with her three teenage children. Ieva's family is just one example of the families that SOS Children's Villages Latvia's family strengthening project is supporting in the Valmiera region, in the north of the country.
The school's education specialist complained that the children didn't attend school for longer periods of time. The children were often depressed, uncommunicative, and avoided participating in school activities.
When the SOS family strengthening programme's social worker visited the family, their apartment was untidy and the mother of the family said that they could not get rid of head lice. They had tried washing their hair regularly, but it hadn't worked. During the visits the social worker concluded that the social roles in the family were inappropriate for the age of the children - they had to take on too much responsibility. It was also established that the family lacked social skills and didn't have social contacts - no real friends or other relatives. The children were clearly at risk of losing the care of their parents.
SOS Children's Villages Latvia's family strengthening programme is carried out in cooperation with the Valmiera Municipality and Vidzeme Regional Support Centre "Dardedze", and is already in its second year. Since the project started, 153 families, which have a total of 278 children, have benefited from the support they have received.
Latvia is one of the European countries that has been hit hardest by the financial and economic crisis. The poor economic situation has an adverse impact on numerous families, as they face salary cuts, unemployment, and reductions to pensions.
It is especially painful for families at high risk of social problems which find it harder to fight their way through overwhelming difficulties. The same goes for large families with many children and a low income. The risk of being placed in institutional care increases for those children whose parents are no longer able to take care of them.
The family strengthening programme specialists prepared a development plan for Ieva's family. Social care workers visited the family at home twice a week to teach the mother social skills such as how to clean the house and create a family-friendly environment. Together they washed the children's hair, disinfected the apartment, clothes and bed linen.
Ieva started to go to the rehabilitation centre in town twice a week, got new friends and learned a lot of practical skills. She had several consultations with a psychologist and was in regular contact with the social worker. The children went to a psychologist to learn to take decisions and to increase their self-confidence.
As the result of their participation in the programme, conditions at home improved considerably. The children are now attending school regularly and are much more cheerful. Their mother has started to attend different social events, is more open and cooperative.
Variety of services
Ieva is one of many examples where staff members have to come up with a suitable package of services for a family. As the programme offers a wide range of services it's much easier to find the right way to help.
A psychologist and a psychotherapist help families to get over their emotional and relationship problems. Social workers visit families at home and teach them about housework and childcare skills, which, although they are sometimes just small things, can significantly improve their living conditions and their quality of life in general. The programme also offers the services of a social rehabilitation specialist, a Montessori education specialist, a speech therapist and a lawyer.
Good results have been achieved by the education group on emotions for parents with children under the age of seven. They can now better understand their children and are able to deal with conflict situations. After completing the course, 15 parents said that they would like to continue their training and therefore formed a parent support group. They shared their knowledge with other families and many more are expected to join them soon. There is also a special support group for parents of families at high risk of social problems, while the most proactive parents have a chance to participate in a parents committee.
Activities for children
The staff members try to involve children from the programme families in various activities, so that they learn new skills, have new experiences and broaden their minds. For example, they can learn about customs and traditions, and have a chance to develop their creativity. Twenty children take part in excursions each year, which are focused on environmental issues. They learn what each of us can do to protect nature and make our world cleaner.
The family strengthening programme staff members have developed a good working relationship with the local social services, the custody court, police juvenile liaison officers, education specialists and psychologists, and a lot can be achieved if efforts are united. Families in need can find the help they are looking for, and the custody court officials praise the programme, saying that the number of children taken away from their biological families has decreased considerably since the programme started.