‘Tis the season to be anti-poverty

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World Bank Country Manager for Romania Elisabetta Capannelli and her
daughter, who was an orphan in Manilla before joining Capannelli's family.
Reeling from a long year of work and toil, December is the month we turn toward our families and friends with joy and gratitude.  December is a month of great generosity. Some of us have so much to give that we also look outside our families and think about those who are hungriest for warmth, joy and support. Here in Bucharest it is common to step-up our efforts and bid for charity. Initiatives to help children, including support for those in foster homes and orphanages, abound.
 
Romania’s recent history saw the country register very high rates of child abandonment. In the early ‘90s, Romania’s child protection relied on large institutions - which offered poor conditions to more than 100,000 children – and we know these children are some of the least fortunate members of society. Nowadays, Romania has not only halved the number of children in the child protection system but it is also promoting a major shift away from institutional care towards more individualized and efficient forms of care, such as extended family, foster families, and family-like homes.
 
Still, psychological strains and tragedies persist - even in this newer, more modern system. Recently, a 14 year old girl from a child protection center decided to take her life because she had been returned to the orphanage after living with a foster mother for 11 years. Her foster mother had fallen ill and the family could not manage to care for her and the other children at the same time. In her suicide note, she told her adoptive mother she loved her and that she couldn’t stand the fact that she was taken away.
 
For me, an adoptive mother of a now 23-year-old daughter who was abandoned at birth and that joined my family from an orphanage in Manila - first as a foster child and then as an adopted child - this story brings home many memories and a stark reminder that the agenda is still out there.
 
And it feels great to be part of an institution like the World Bank that, through projects and analytical work, has offered assistance in Romania since the early years, helping the country move towards the current, modern system. Recently, we have worked with the Romanian Child Protection Agency, in the Ministry of Labour, to launch a complex analysis of the child protection system. We found that the children in the Child Protection System represent 1.5% of the total number of children in Romania (still too big a number in my view) and that their welfare falls short of those of the average child in Romania. 
 
There is a strong correlation between extreme poverty and child abandonment. About three quarters of abandoned children are in the system because of the extreme poverty of their families. The majority of the children come from communities that are marginalized. There are still pockets of deep, concentrated, and persistent poverty in Romania and this is often mixed with ethnic marginalization, especially towards the Roma. The World Bank has helped the Government of Romania identify, map, and diagnose these communities - which represent about 5% of the population of the country - but little has been done to address the roots of the problem. 
 
We can and need to step up our efforts for this.
 
The current child protection system is not capable of building the human capital needed for these children to become productive members of the society. The leadership in the Child Protection Agency and in the Ministry knows that Romania needs to invest in the development of all its children and that it must reduce the rate of children entering orphanages while simultaneously helping those already there become fully functional members of society. This will take more case managers, more foster parents, more social workers in the system. It also takes more tolerance for the less fortunate in the greater Romanian society. Breaking the cycle of poverty, marginalization, and child abandonment is a goal that everybody can - and should - work for.
 
Together we can help the 50,000 children still in orphanages become full-fledged, functional, young citizens of Romania.
 
The month of December shows us that there are many people willing to share that burden of generosity and love. Since we can’t make it December forever, let us not forget that Romania can do better on poverty. Solutions are at hand, we need leadership to make this a priority. And we should make sure the basic tenet of community spirit is the understanding that our shared prosperity depends on everybody working together for the future members of society - be they our children, our neighbors’ children or, as sometimes happens, children who nobody wanted, like my own daughter, who has become the jewel of my life. 

Authors

Elisabetta Capannelli

World Bank Country Manager, Romania

Join the Conversation

Penny Williams
December 21, 2015

Bravo Elisabetta. Walking the talk. I'm proud to know you.

Monica Ion
December 23, 2015

Excellent story, very touching and very true. You are a wonderful person with a beautiful heart.

AUR
January 02, 2016

Romania could do better on poverty if it would switch from having a protection system focused on benefits to one focused on services, individualized and local, or a balanced mix. Romania could do better not only if the child protection system would invest ïn "more case managers, more foster parents, more social workers". Yes they are needed, but WHO ARE THESE SO CALLED PROFESSIONALS of which you want more? What is their expertise? What and where did they study? What process turns them into decision makers, coming from nowhere? Sorry, but before employing as social workers the mother of the mayor and the mistress of the local county president, just because there is a need for "more", maybe we should think twice. Before nominating another singer as Head of the Child Protection Agency, we should think twice what is the added value and pre-assess the possible disastrous impact. The terrifying truth is that the child protection system is swamped with non professionals, who have no relevant studies, or who have studies who narrow their vision instead of widening it. Everywhere a medical doctor is in charge, it comes up that the problems are only of medical nature. Where an accountant or engineer is in charge (God knows how were they appointed, but many were, it is all about investing in buildings and investments - not in services, and never in staff. Most staff in the Ministry of Labour graduated whatever, and go social work degrees in accelerated learning programmes, paid for through PHARE programmes or other of the type. Basically, people who know nothing of child development, of psychology, or social psychology, have no counseling skills, no understanding of case management (as they never participated in a case evaluation, from the beginning to the end, they cannot write case reports and cannot point out problems or com out with solutions) but took courses in social policy taught by the sycophants of the political parties in lead at a moment or another, those are supposed to design change and implement it. At the entry in any adminitrative institutions in Romania, from local level to ministry, the evaluation is done based on an exam on legislation. Nobody checks the quality of your studies (and many people working in the child protection system had acquired diplomas from private universities, against money. In other EU countries, the public servants undertake the most difficult and complex exams, which inquire on various skills, knowledge, capacity to innovate, work in team, lead etc. IN Romania, you have to know 8 laws - and decide on the souls and lives of children. How the child protection system in this country is populated is the biggest challenge, and maybe the World Bank should look into this, as well ....One cannot soar like an eagle when flying with turkeys...

Elisabetta Capannelli
January 05, 2016

Thank you so much for your comment, which confirms how important it is to continue working together for improving the functioning of the social inclusion system in Romania.
Indeed, paying careful attention to the quality of social services is crucial for having a functional social protection system in place. This effort will definitely be worth it, as it will not only contribute to reducing poverty, but it will also help mitigate forms of social exclusion that are not correlated with income deficits and that unfairly hinder the vulnerable groups from reaching their full potential in society. 
Thank you also for your comments that the human resource problem does not only refer to the low number of staff that are today available in Romania, but also to their limited skills and insufficient coordination. The Ministry and World Bank extensive research, carried out to back the National Strategy for Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction, revealed problems like: insufficient professional training of existing social workers, limited methodologies for evaluating or monitoring the circumstances of different vulnerable groups, poorly developed methodologies for the early detection of at-risk cases, limited referral systems for most vulnerable groups, among others. An important step towards taking action on the above issue has been to accept these problems need tackling. These issues have now become more widely accepted. 
You pointed out that to strengthen the system, it is important to put in place the elements that are missing or addressing those that are working inefficiently. This include creating mechanisms to ensure and enforce that the staff have the right skills, developing methodologies and tools for conducting assessments, providing constant guidance to people doing social work, and defining functional relationships between people with different responsibilities. This is not easy task, but it would definitely be a rewarding one. 
Thank you again for contributing to the debate.

Suzy Yoon-Yildiz
January 05, 2016

Thank you for sharing your and Brenda's stories - both of you are shining examples of what familial love mean and their results. Romania has made amazing strides in the last decades on this agenda, and hopefully, together with its partners, can make even more in a shorter time span.

gladys
January 08, 2016

Wonderful story! Thank you Elizabetta!!!

Paola Ridolfi
January 15, 2016

Thank you Elisabetta. The considerations on social services are extremely interesting and relevant to FCS countries where needs are even greater and systems need to be developed, rationalized and strengthened. At the same time, the global security threats and the horizontal spread of fragility to non-fragile countries associated with terrorism puts at risk continued investments into such systems. Good to be reminded through a real story of living and managing by example.

Antonio Paulo
January 19, 2016

Elisabetta, you managed to bring the topics that WB and your team work, close to home. I find that it is extremely important that we don't forget the impact that our work may bring to peoples lives. Bravo!

Anna
January 11, 2016

Thank you for writing this story, Elisabetta.