The Department for Children and Family Services offers personalised social work to people in difficulties, especially married couples, young people, children who need protection and care, persons with disabilities and youths and adults who are in conflict with the law.
The Department has offices at the Centru Hidma Socjali, St. Venera, Malta and the Centru Hidma Socjali, in Victoria, Gozo, and is divided into five sections, each manned by professional social workers who have received academic training at universities in Malta and abroad.
During 1995 the department dealt with 2609 cases. 846 were new cases. During 1994 the same department dealt with 2468 cases. 889 were new cases. It also operates a 24 hour a day crisis intervention system which this year dealt with 474 cases after normal working hours.
During the year great importance was given to practice guidance and the supervision of all the social work staff in all the six units of the department.
THE INTAKE UNIT
The Intake Unit dealt with eight hundred and twelve (812) new cases and thirty-four (34) re-activated cases, making the total up to eight hundred forty-six (846) cases dealt with by the department as a whole. The Intake staff dealt with three hundred and five (305) short-term cases of which two hundred and fifty-four (254) were eventually put away. Currently the staff of the Intake Unit is dealing with fifty-one (51) active cases. A further sixty-seven (67) cases were referred to external agencies while a further four hundred and seventy-four (474) long term cases were distributed to the other units within the department.
The Intake Unit, despite the changes connected with the effects of the departmental re-organisation and the introduction of a new role structure, has managed to provide both an efficient and effective service. In their endeavours the social workers of the unit have been ably supported by the management and by their colleagues within the department who have, in a spirit of collegiality, added the additional duty of stand-by officer to their own roster of duties.
The Intake Unit was, during the year, staffed by one registered social worker assisted by an experienced casual welfare officer and supported by one clerical officer and one data entry operator who will soon complete her Diploma in Social Work course. All cases are assessed by the social worker and then allocated according to established procedure. Supervision sessions are held regularly to assure quality service and staff development.
The staff of the Intake Unit, besides attending at the regular staff meetings, have also participated in external seminars, notably the seminar organised in July of this year by the Adlerian (Psychology) Association of Malta. They have also participated in university courses, especially the Social Work Management Course, Diploma in Social Work Supervision and other government training schemes held under the auspices of the Staff Development Organisation of the Office of the Prime Minister.
Because of the shortage of staff in the department, the Intake Unit also lent the services of one of the staff members, on a partial basis, to help the staff of the Adoption and Fostering Unit. While on the whole highly satisfied with the hard work and commitment of the staff of the Intake Unit, there remain certain problems which need to be dealt with to improve both the quality of service and to maintain the smooth running and functioning of the Unit. Foremost amongst these is the necessity to organise an in-service training course for the casual welfare officers who make a valid contribution to the unit in their role of duty stand-by officer. This training would need to incorporate the development of new skills essential to the Intake role, especially those connected with filling in of new case sheets, together with interviewing and assessment skills.
The unit has plans to improve the central filing system of the department. In fact a workshop is being planned involving the various unit heads, in order to devise and regularly update a filing system that will cater to both the department's and the units' needs. A product of this type of workshop would be the standardisation of the filing system, a general consensus on procedures regarding file movement and status, and specified training sessions for the clerical staff of the Unit.
CHILD AND FAMILY UNIT
During the past year, the Child and Family Unit dealt with a variety of problems connected with marital cases, families experiencing complex family problems, children who were admitted into care and others already in children's homes, and single parent families faced with various problems. The social workers prepared social reports for the First and Second Halls of the Civil Court regarding custody and access of children of litigating couples. Great attention was given to cases of physical and sexual abuse of children. Adolescents with behavioural problems received the attention of the social workers of the Unit by means of counselling and regular contacts.
Throughout 1995 the unit dealt with 258 cases which were referred to it by the Intake Unit. A substantial number of put-away or dormant cases were reactivated and allocated to the social workers of the Unit who originally dealt with these cases in previous years. Other cases, the original social worker of which is no longer a member of the Unit or is employed elsewhere, were assigned to the remaining social workers of the Unit.
Eighty-nine (89) marital cases handled by the Unit required intensive counselling sessions with the parents and their children. Despite the shortage of personnel, as a result of which the Unit is not in a position to publish statistics regarding the outcome of such cases, it strived to give the best possible service to it's clients. The Unit is planning to adopt more family therapy techniques, especially when more social workers join the Department.
The First and Second Halls of the Civil Court referred 50 cases to the Unit requesting the compilation of social reports containing recommendations regarding modalities of care, custody and access of minors to their parents. A number of cases from both Halls of the Civil Court ordering the monitoring of access by parents to their children, and of supervising children in the care and custody of parents in their own homes, were also referred to the Unit. The Unit still lacks a playroom providing a suitable environment for the children who meet their parents on the premises. This is highly desirable and one of the Unit's priorities. Plans are in hand so that the pleasant garden area of Centru Hidma Socjali be made adaptable for such access in order that it be made more congenial and conducive to more relaxed meetings.
In 1995, one hundred and forty-one (141) children were living in residential homes run either by the Ursuline Sisters or the Sisters of Charity. Forty-eight (48) boys whose ages range between 9 years and 16 years were living at St. Patrick's School in Sliema.
Six (6) case reviews of children in care were held regularly each week for four months in succession to formulate care plans for children in care. Some of these cases were earmarked for fostering in which cases the social workers in charge were expected to carry out social work intervention consisting mainly of assessing, investigating and eventually making written recommendations to the Fostering and Adoption Panel. In cases where the child was already fostered the unit's social workers continued to work with the family of the child and to work hand in hand with the social worker doing the fostering work. In other cases the social worker also monitored the placement of children with a foster family.
The Unit feels that priority should be given to children in residential care to spare them unnecessary hardship and psychological damage. More effort should be injected in providing social work intervention with families having children in care to help them adopt parenting skills conducive to the desirable reintegration of their children into their own home. Again, in order that this will someday materialize, the Unit needs a larger complement of social workers who would be responsible for a relatively manageable caseload. With the present number of social workers it is impossible to achieve this much desired objective. Other resources, such as day care facilities, are needed by the Unit. As matters are at present most children in residential care are destined to remain there for years and in the meantime their parents get used to the idea of living without their children.
The Unit followed twenty-seven (27) cases involving care orders. Other care orders are the responsibility of other units or other agencies. In such cases the Unit was involved in chairing case conferences and case reviews and occasionally presenting the case in the Juvenile Court when an objection was filed. Progress reports regarding these cases were drawn up by the Unit and later presented to the Children and Young Persons Advisory Board for its consideration and decision. Care Order cases were regularly reviewed and certain cases were dealt with by a multi-disciplinary team to formulate and update care plans.
During the last year various services were given by the Child and Family Unit to the International Social Services Office in Geneva and foreign embassies in Malta.
The contribution of the social workers of the Unit as stand-by officers has to a certain extent impinged upon the overall workload of the Unit as the social workers found it difficult, while on stand-by duty, to be readily available to give prompt service to new clients calling at the Centru Hidma Socjali, while at the same time having to deal also with such of their cases as required their attention on those days.
During 1995 the Unit held twenty-four (24) meetings to discuss issues pertaining to the social work delivery of the Unit and the formulation of working plans.
Four (4) one day seminars were held and the unit has made considerable progress on the first four chapters of the Manual of Operations of the unit.
Regarding children in residential care it is felt that we were unable to utilise collated data for service provision which is more in line with current trends. This was due mainly to the one fact that the Unit lacks human resources and other means.
The Unit is aware that a good proportion of its caseload is children living in residential care. The unit would like to intensify its commitment for the provision of a better social work service delivery but this is only possible if the Unit is provided with the necessary tools needed to achieve the desired objectives.
The Unit has put a lot of effort during 1995 into the compilation of material relevant to be included in its Manual of Operations. This experience has helped the staff of the Unit to realise the shortcomings of the department itself which has yet to formulate a Manual of Policy and Procedures upon which each units' manual is to be based and to which it should conform. But tasks in this direction will be taken in hand in the near future.
The Unit plans to obtain clear guidelines in order to be in a position to budget for its own needs and social work programmes.
ADOPTION AND FOSTERING UNIT
During 1995 forty-two (42) couples applied for adoption. Documents and certificates of thirty-one (31) couples were sent to the Rumanian Committee for Adoptions. These couples are still waiting to adopt children from Rumania. Up to December there were 36 couples waiting to be assessed out of a back-log of about seventy applications.
The Adoption and Fostering Panel met nine times during 1995 and discussed thirty-six (36) cases of Adoption and ten (10) cases of Fostering.
Eleven (11) children from Rumania were adopted by Maltese couples; twelve (12) children from Malta were adopted privately; one couple adopted a child from Pakistan and another couple adopted a child from England.
Six (6) post-adoption reports regarding the progress shown by adopted children were sent to the Rumanian Adoption Committee.
The Adoption and Fostering Unit held meetings once every fortnight.
During 1995 the unit offered support to and monitored thirty-five (35) foster families.
Support Group meetings for Foster Carers were held in the evenings once a month. Guest speakers were invited to give talks on topics concerning fostering. The speakers were:
Mr. Paul Bartolo, psychologist, spoke about children's needs.
Mr. Raymond Dimech, social worker, spoke about the relationships with the foster child's natural family.
Miss Borg Grech, from the Education Department, spoke about the school and educational problems of fostered children.
Mrs. Maureen Cole, social worker and a university lecturer, gave two talks on the role of the social worker in fostering.
Dr. Peter Muscat, psychiatrist, spoke about child development.
Dr. Victor Zammit, Director of the Children and Family Services Department spoke about the legal aspects of fostering.
Another session dealing with children and discipline was not held because of circumstances beyond the control of the organisers.
In March 1995, the Unit organised an awareness programme to recruit new foster carers. Advertisements were placed in all the local newspapers. Nine (9) families answered the advertisements. After individual interviews the six couples were invited to attend three training sessions during May which were held at the Centru Hidma Socjali. Two couples who were already fostering children were invited to share their experiences with the new recruits during these sessions.
In March the Unit worked on the Unit budget of Lm6,000. Its priorities included the organisation of support groups for families who foster, psychological services for children in care, and awareness programmes for the recruitment of new foster carers. The estimated expenditure connected with the implementation of these projects was passed on to the director of the department for his approval.
In April the Unit completed the review of one hundred and fifty (150) cases of children residing at the Ursuline Crèche, Angela House, St. Rita Home, Ursuline Home, Valletta and Vincenzo Bugeja Home. The Access data base which is now available to the Unit will help to expand the services of the unit.
In May, two unit members attended courses on group skills and supervision organised by the Cana Movement.
In July Miss Carmen Zammit and Miss Laura Agius attended the International Foster Care Organisation (IFCO) International Conference, "Building Bridges", which was held in Bergen, Norway.
In August three social workers started working with the Unit as contractees assessing prospective adoptive parents and compiling the home study reports for adoption purposes. These three social workers are being supervised by Laura Agius, the head of the Unit.
The Unit is also working on a plan to create fostering systems. So far, it has formulated it's mission statement, broad aims, direct aims, and outputs, as well as activities connected with fostering. This project is being worked out in conjunction with the Social Welfare Development Programme of the Ministry of Social Development, the Children's Homes, the Cana Movement and St. Patrick's School.
During 1995, the Unit was composed of one Accredited Social Worker and three casual welfare officers. The casual welfare officers work on a part-time basis. The Accredited Social Worker, apart from coordinating the work of this Unit, is also a Probation Officer. The work of this Unit involves work with persons put under Probation Orders or under Supervision Orders, young offenders (many of whom are first offenders) and preparation of reports both for the Juvenile Court in Santa Venera and for the Courts of Law in Valletta. A number of other social workers working in the Department also act as Probation Officers in addition to their normal social work duties in their respective Units.
As from mid-July, all members of this Unit were included in a roster to assist the Duty Officers at the Intake Team.
During the academic year 1994/1995, two of the Casual Welfare Officers forming part of this Unit successfully completed a Post Qualifying Diploma Course in Probation Services. This has contributed to a better quality of social work delivery by this Unit. The other casual welfare officer also started this course but had to drop out when she had covered a substantial part of the course due to personal reasons.
THE PROBATION SERVICE
During 1995, another Unit, which deals only with probation cases, was formed. The unit, which started with four probation officers, does not fall under the jurisdiction of this Department but is directly responsible to the Ministry of Home Affairs and is based at Fort St. Elmo in Valletta. The number of probation officers in the department has decreased and there were only three (3) males and one (1) female probation officers from this department working in the field during 1995. No one has as yet been appointed to replace the Principal Probation Officer who has retired from government service. The number of probation cases dealt with by this department during 1995 was two hundred and eleven (211) of which twenty-four (24) were issued during 1995, and there were also thirteen (13) Supervision Orders of which three (3) were issued during 1995.
Only eighteen (18) cases were referred to this department by the police during 1995. Some of these have been closed whilst some others are still being dealt with.
During 1995 the Juvenile Court held ten police sittings and fourteen sittings to deal with objections to care orders. Apart from dealing with cases brought before the Juvenile Court, the Unit is also responsible for the necessary preparations for the holding of these sittings and for keeping records of all the cases brought before this Court. During 1995 the unit started forwarding a monthly return to the "Sedqa" agency indicating the gender, age, nationality, town and offence of youths brought before this Court. This information is then published in the monthly data report prepared by the Information and Research Team of "Sedqa".
SOCIAL WORK WITH PRISONERS
During 1995 the responsibilities for the Corradino Correctional Facilities came under the Ministry for Home Affairs. However, the Department still maintained contact with those inmates and their relatives who were already being followed by our social workers or probation officers prior to their being admitted to the Corradino Correctional Facility.
This Unit liaised with and handled social and other related problems arising out of the three Adult Training Centres (ATC) at St. Venera, Mtarfa, Hal-Far and the section for the blind at St. Venera. There is also a fourth ATC in Gozo. It processed and chaired twenty-five (25) case conferences which dealt with prospective entrants to the A.T.C.'s and the Section for the Blind. It investigated and dealt with twenty-seven (27) cases of alleged abuse and/or neglect of persons with disabilities as well as another 64 cases of persons in need.
Two hundred and thirty-four (234) cases needed intensive intervention, which included home visits or interviews at the Centre for Social Work (CHS). This was needed to solve, or at least alleviate, family and other problems. The bulk of these cases were reactive. Throughout the year the Unit conducted over 200 home visits besides attending monthly meetings dealing with the Housing Department 13 Scheme. During each meeting, an average of twenty-nine (29) cases were presented, each entailing at least one home visit. Another eight (8) housing cases were investigated and presented before the Housing Board.
Staff of the Unit also dealt with an average of four (4) normal appointments, besides which there was an average of three (3) clients calling daily without appointment. The Unit carried out an average of three (3) interviews per day dealing with cases by appointment as well as counselling, liaison and advocacy as and when it was needed.
Staff dealt with queries and referrals by such agencies as the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities, the Social Services Department, St. Luke's Hospital, Mount Carmel Hospital, St. Vincent De Paule Residence, Sir Paul Boffa Hospital, the Children's Homes, the Community Chest Fund, Dar il-Kaptan, Id-Dar tal-Provvidenza, the Education Department, the Courts, the Police and Local Councils. Other duties consisted of dealing with the employed disabled personnel at Centru Hidma Socjali and all their occupational problems. The Unit also organized on the job training for registered disabled persons seeking employment.
Alternative job placement, in various other government departments, was found for three (3) disabled persons employed by our department.
The staff also attended and participated in various seminars and meetings dealing with disability issues, and participated in the social work management course conducted by the Institute of Social Welfare of the University of Malta.
The Unit still handles a limited caseload of "normal" family cases, mainly dealing with problem families, unmarried mothers, children at risk, and about thirty (30) cases of children in care.
PARTICIPATION IN INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCES
The Director represents Malta on the Steering Committee on Social Policy (CDPS) of the Council of Europe. This year the 13th Meeting was held in Strasbourg on the 25th - 28th April, 1995. He was also a member of the delegation attending the Helsinki Conference on "The Role of the Father" on 26th - 29th June, and the conference on International Adoptions in Romania on 15th - 22nd October.
During 1995 the heads of the Adoption and Fostering Unit and the Child and Family Unit took part in international conferences on Adoption and Fostering in Norway. The head of the Child and Family Unit took part in a conference on single mothers in France.
In August, social workers from the department attended the World Assembly of Families of the International Confederation of Christian Family Movements which was held in Bugibba, Malta.
The Head of the Socio-Legal Unit and other members of his staff attended a week-long seminar on Crime and Criminal Justice in the Mediterranean Area : Promotion of Informal Decision - Making and International Cooperation organised by the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute together with the University of Malta.
In November the principal social worker attended a course on Effective Management Communication organised by the Malta University Services at the Malta University at Tal-Qroqq.
TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE SOCIAL WORK STAFF
Regular staff meetings were held for the further training and development of the social work staff, especially through meetings of heads of units, meetings of all the social work staff of the department and joint meetings with other social workers of other government social work departments. Special guest speakers were invited to the Centru Hidma Socjali from time to time to address social workers and the general public on topics of general interests to all those interested in social work in Malta. Topics ranged from confidentiality and ethics, managing skills in social work, social work and supervision practice and the civil and religious aspects of Marriage.
This year the department also embarked on the establishment of formal links with other social work agencies abroad, especially by means of exchange visits. The system is still in its initial stages but when properly set up will give valuable opportunities to the social workers of the department to gain experience of social work practice in other countries. The scheme envisages foreign social workers visiting Malta for the same purpose.
During 1995 a good number of social workers from the department continued to attend the two-year social work management course organized by the Institute of Social Welfare of the University of Malta. This course is due to end in February 1996.
A good number of social workers and other members of staff of the department attended various in-service training courses during this year organised by the Staff Development Organisation of the Office of the Prime Minister.
Video sessions on social work topics were organized for the social workers of the department from time to time using videos from the Resource Centre of the department.
The units of the department were also encouraged to develop their own programmes of further training for members of their staff by means of periodic one day seminars held outside the Centru Hidma Socjali. These seminars dealt mostly with the building of the Manual of Operations of the units of the department.
PARTICIPATION IN PROGRAMMES ON LOCAL RADIO AND TELEVISION STATIONS
During the year the social workers of the department participated in discussions and debates on social work themes on local radio and television.
HELP TO NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS
The social workers of the department also assisted many
non-governmental organizations by active advice and encouragement and also
worked with them on joint ventures in social work of benefit to people
in need in Malta and abroad.