Hand in hand: why social work in Ferizaj is always carried out in teams today

Ferizaj, a town in southern Kosovo, has completely changed the way in which it provides social services. Under the guidance of a nongovernmental organisation which promotes good governance and political education, municipal staff from different departments, have begun working together rather than in silos. 

Until only a few years ago, Ibrahim Musliu was ready to quit his job. He was frustrated and disillusioned by the work he was doing in the welfare office of Ferizaj, a town in southern Kosovo. Every day he worked to improve the lives of the people who came to see him and he was worn out. He wanted things to change, especially for the children, and to offer them an alternative to the stark choice they faced between a shabby home or sleeping rough. Yet, he felt he could not do very much on his own working for a public body that lacked proper organisation and in which everybody worked as if they were on a treadmill.

Today, Ibrahim Musliu radiates optimism when he walks into his office in the morning. Finally, he has the feeling that his work can actually make a difference. As before, he takes care of neglected children, tries to find foster families for orphans or to convince parents that their children ought to go to school, rather than begging on the streets. And his efforts are increasingly bearing fruit.

New approaches to municipal welfare

Musliu and the children he takes care of owe this important change to the GIZ Regional Project Social Rights for Vulnerable Groups that promotes the social rights of minorities in Western Balkan countries. In Ferizaj, the project initiated a partnership between the welfare office and the nongovernmental organisation INPO, which brought about a stringent reform of municipal social services. INPO stands for Iniciativa për Progres. This ‘Initiative for Progress’ promotes good governance and political education in the Kosovan towns of Gjilan and Ferizaj. Together, the new partners have broken up old structures, abolished inefficient and complicated procedures and essentially reinvented social services in Ferizaj.

The introduction of interdisciplinary teams has probably been the biggest change. Instead of strictly sticking to the boundaries of traditional fields of municipal social services, staff from multiple public bodies and different disciplinary backgrounds now work closely together. Ibrahim Musliu, for example, is now in constant dialogue with a colleague from the family care department, the department for returnee families, welfare assistance, a youth psychologist and a school supervisor. Interdisciplinary teams visit and assist families in need in their homes.

 

‘I used to have to try to get things done all by myself and was often powerless because a social worker can’t really help a family when they’re on their own. For many issues, I simply wasn’t the right person to ask,’ says Ibrahim Musliu. ‘Today, I can turn to my colleagues, and we obviously also have the support of INPO, so we can do a lot for local people. We are finally able to offer a comprehensive service.’

Interdisciplinary teams – key to success

The success of the GIZ regional project Social Rights for Vulnerable Groups builds on the pillars of interdisciplinary workgroups and co-operation between the city council and local NGOs, a model that has since been exported to other Western Balkan towns. In Ferizaj, these teams now jointly discuss all cases. All the team members contribute from their vantage point; they carefully analyse each individual case and develop the best solutions together. Of course, keeping all team members updated, even if individual staff members are no longer working on a specific case, is and remains key. This approach creates a shared responsibility and commitment, creates awareness of the work of others among people who used to operate alone and offers opportunities to develop new solutions that may not have previously been apparent.

Ibrahim Musliu is currently working on one such case where the parents of a boy decided to take their son out of school because it was too far away. The family lives just outside of town, and to reach the closest school, the boy had to walk for several hours a day. Previously, there was little Ibrahim Musliu could have done working alone, but working with the school supervisor and the INPO team, he managed to convince the parents that an education was essential for their son and organised a lift so he could get to school.

For Ibrahim Musliu, the partnership between the welfare office and nongovernmental organisations has therefore vastly improved the situation. ‘Sometimes the INPO staff are much closer to the families and have a far better understanding of their problems. We would not have noticed as many cases if it hadn’t been for the people from INPO,’ he says. He now has more cases on his desk, but definitely not more stress. ‘Even if there is a lot to do, the new team structure means we achieve a lot more than we used to.’ And, in the end, that’s what counts for Ibrahim Musliu.

 

Text: FLMH | Photos: ©WOLFGANG MÜLLER