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Fast facts

1.3 million

Children still grow up separated from their families in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Uzbekistan explores new approaches in social work

Print version
02 November 2018

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For Nilufar Muinova, social work covers extensive areas. One of the aspects is the prevention of crimes by children living without parental care. “The measures undertaken to help these neglected children to fulfill their potential and return to a healthy lifestyle is a function of social work practice,” she says.

For the past seven months, Nilufar Muinova has been serving as the Head of the Center for Social and Legal Aid to Minors in Tashkent city’s Department of Internal Affairs. The Center provides temporary shelter, food and medical care to children living without parental care in Tashkent. Also, it is the only transit center in the country for the returning children of migrants working abroad.

Recently, Nilufar attended the social work training organized for practitioners and academicians by the Columbia University School of Social Work. It was co-organized by the National University of Uzbekistan and UNICEF. During the six-day training, Nilufar and 30 other participants learned the skills of engagement, how to set up therapeutic connection, case management skills, ethics and evidence-based social work practices.

Activities like role-plays and discussing case studies during the training, conducted by Dr. Timothy Hunt and Lyudmila Kim from Columbia University changed the participants’ approach to working with vulnerable children and their families. “I have learned to assess the cases not as a law enforcement officer, but as a social worker,” Nilufar stated. “While the human dimension is a priority in the internal affairs system, somehow our minds assess the situations from the legal standpoint. The training has made me aware that I need to reconsider my approach in understanding the best interests of the child and use alternative interventions.”

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Like in many countries, there is a massive need to develop social work as a profession in Uzbekistan. UNICEF has been working with the Government of Uzbekistan to develop social work as a profession and fill the current gaps by training the paraprofessionals by teaching them skills of social workers.

In June 2018, in collaboration with the Ministry of Higher and Secondary Specialized Education and the National University of Uzbekistan “Uzbekistan Social Work Education for Excellence” project was launched to enhance capacities of social work professionals in the country. During the first phase of the project, an assessment of social service workforce in Bukhara, Fergana, Samarkand and Tashkent cities was conducted by the Columbia University School of Social Work with the support of UNICEF.

“We want to share our experience, some of our lessons learned in other capacity building projects when it comes to social work and also understand the needs of Uzbekistan,” said Timothy Hunt, an Associate Research Scientist of Columbia University School of Social Work.

“In Uzbekistan, we see people with diverse backgrounds from engineering, economics, medicine, etc., who have transitioned into social work practice. However, they need additional training to understand the skills and practice social work for service delivery. We are willing to assist on multiple levels - helping with curriculum adaptation and capacity building in “training the trainer” model,” he added.

Currently, four universities in Uzbekistan – National University of Uzbekistan, Fergana State University, Samarkand State University and Namangan State University – offer degree programs in social work. “Without qualified expertise in social service sector and professional social work practice, it would be impossible to address all the challenges in the current system of social protection. This training was an important milestone in building the capacity of current academicians and practitioners for the profession,’ said Victoria Alekseeva, a Senior Lecturer in Social Work Department, School of Social Sciences, National University of Uzbekistan.

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Nilufar plans to introduce the position of social work for the children in her Center, and share her new knowledge gained from the training with her staff consisting of 61 people.

Many children admitted to the Center, suffer from various psychological traumas. However, the Center has a limited authority to provide interventions as children remain at the Center for a short period. With her plans to transform the Center into a facility that meets with international standards and child safeguarding policies, Nilufar remains optimistic. “Saving a child may not change the world, but for that child we can change the world,” she says.

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