The center in this Croatian coastal town provides care for adults with varying stages of dementia. It is a safe place for those who can't cope on their own and a lifesaver for those taking care of them while holding down a job. Counseling is provided so family members learn how to handle their loved ones' illness and how to make their life as comfortable as possible.
This new service and attitude is the result of an ambitious plan to make the country's social welfare system more client-focused, user-friendly and better managed. Five years ago, Croatian authorities partnered with the World Bank to overhaul the system so it would help welfare beneficiaries achieve the greatest self-reliance, and deliver effective services to the neediest.
Thanks to the World Bank-supported Social Welfare Development Project, a parent-driven association is caring for almost 200 children with severe physical disabilities. A grant allowed them to hire 14 employees and also treat children who cannot get to the center.
"Here children receive play therapy. There is nothing violent here, there is nothing that you have to do, everything is done through play. My son has also embraced it and he makes the most progress through play," says Adrijana Prpa, a mother of a severely disabled boy.
Another group in Pula is helping people with developmental disabilities cope with routine tasks which we often take for granted--food shopping, cooking, paying bills, opening a bank account. Thanks to the project, the group's building was renovated and they received new vans that are allowing 100 disabled adults to live a more independent life.
Learning to cook was Danijela Jović's favorite thing. "I never had a clue about kitchen work. Since my Danijela (one of the educators and Danijela's caretaker) taught me how to cook, I enjoy this task, I love it very much and it makes me happy."
Over 250 social welfare practitioners—social workers, state and county representatives—were involved in reforming social welfare. Almost 9,000 needy and vulnerable people were cared for through 34 innovative community-driven projects. New social service quality standards were introduced in residential homes and social welfare centers. Before the project started, only a third of residential institutions met public health standards. Now almost three quarters of them do.
Fourteen social welfare centers were built or renovated and equipped with a new computer management system. They, and more than 70 other social welfare centers, operate on the one-stop-shop principle. A front office answers administrative questions and a back office allows clients to have private meetings with social workers. Social workers spend less time on administrative work and more with their clients. Clients do not have to traipse to different offices.
These reforms laid the ground for a new social welfare law. But this was just the beginning.
"These were first generation reforms, now we need to focus on second generation reforms, which will gradually reduce institutionalized care to the largest extent possible, provide services based on individual needs, further increase provision of community based social services, heavily promote foster care and make the system much more responsive and effective to the needs of the vulnerable and needy," says Ministry of Health and Social Welfare State Secretary Ante Zvonimir Golem.
Other countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have tried to introduce similar changes to better serve and protect the vulnerable but only managed to do them partially. Croatia, by contrast, is a good example of a country where changes have been successfully introduced nationwide to benefit the neediest and most vulnerable members of society.