The child protection system in Macedonia is currently characterised by fragmentation and no connectedness of policies both in terms of policy development and implementation. The child protection in itself is not unified, rather protection of children is envisaged within the existing social protection services for the population in general. There is neither integrated system, nor unified policies convenient for subsequent straightforward local implementation depending on the local circumstances. There are no specialised departments within the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy (MoLSP) and the Centres for Social Work (CSWs) that would deal specifically with planning and addressing problems of children at risk solely.
In addition to the lack of integrated child protection system, there is an apparent need for coordinated approach in developing policies and reforms planning involving all relevant stakeholders. Inter-ministerial cooperation is in place, but is not yet formalised with protocols of cooperation. In the recent years, planning of the reforms and development of strategic goals have been based on involvement of different stakeholders, although the lack of evaluation and monitoring mechanism for the implementation of the reform documents entails inability to locate responsibilities for the eventual success or failure of the reform efforts.
A couple of commissions were established within the MoLSP to guide and facilitate the reforms: Commission for adoption and Commission for cooperation with the NGO sector - established after "service purchasing" with the NGO sector was introduced. Service purchasing and contracting with the NGOs in the delivery of social services is a reform achievement in Macedonia that has been manifesting positive practical implications.
Apart from the internal fragmentation of policies, the assessment of the key initiators of the reforms reveal that too often reform initiatives are encouraged and set off not by the governmental institutions themselves (where there is a certain lack of initiatives), but by external stakeholders that have been pressuring the government years back. Most notably, the influence of UNICEF, Women's organisations, as well as NGOs protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, is to be emphasised.
In the domain of the strategic documents, only a few are truly relevant to the child protection reforms in the Country. The process of preparation of strategic reform documents (i.e. Strategy for Deinstitutionalisation, Strategy for Family Violence) is still underway. Action plans that would originate from these Strategies are not developed, meaning subsequently that the actual implementation of the reform objectives is yet to take place.
As for the regulatory documents, there are recurrent changes and amendments of the existing laws (Law on Social Protection, Family Law, Law on Child Protection - as examples of laws being most frequently amended). Yet again, changes in the regulatory documents are often introduced by means of external influences of influential organisations (ex. UNICEF), key reform projects (such as the World Bank SPIL project for restructuring of the social protection system), or as part of the requirements for harmonisation of the Macedonian with the European legislation (ex. EU Directives).
At the local level, within the process of reorganisation of statutory services and related personnel issues, most of the reforms are top-down and create changes that relate to organisation and work within the CSWs, but no reform focuses on them. Except in Skopje, CSWs are mostly polyvalent institutions operating on territorial principle. At present, they face the problem of continuing transfer of new responsibilities and tasks from the "centre" and serious staff shortages. These problems are enhanced by the fact that CSWs still operate using the traditional case work approach to practice, with little of an outreach work taking place, nor are any of the reforms directed towards case management and adopting new and up-to-date approaches in practice through continuing education.
In addition, CSWs linkages with municipalities are incomplete. The already initiated process of decentralisation in social protection is limited primarily to institutions for elderly and the day care centres (DCCs). Given the lack of obligatory elements in legislation in the part of decentralisation and the transfer of responsibilities for social protection of citizens, and as a result of the weak financial and administrative capacities of municipalities, none of the existing DCCs (which are currently organisational units of the CSWs) is decentralised hitherto, as it was expected after the legislative changes were introduced in 2004.
Gatekeeping mechanisms are still weak and centralised. Gatekeeping at local level is non-existent as regulation of the social inspection, standardisation of services and licensing takes place at the central stage. The social inspection was only recently legally regulated (in 2005), while the Department for Social Inspection started functioning earlier this year. The process of standardisation in social work is delayed as the development of the standards for services for functioning of the CSWs and social institutions is still on the go. Licensing is currently a responsibility of the MoLSP, although the new Law on Social Protection (still in procedure) anticipates establishment of a Chamber for Social Activities that would fully take over licensing of professionals working in social protection institutions from the MoLSP. In addition, a rights-based approach to child protection is not applied.
In the domain of material assistance, the reforms are in general directed towards targeting of the financial allowances (social assistance and child supplements) and updating the system of administration of social assistance benefits.
Most significant achievements however, both in terms of legislative changes and practice, are evidenced in the domains of deinstitutionalisation (although predominantly directed towards disabled children) and the community-based services (day-care centres for children on the streets, for disabled children, shelters for victims of family violence). However, there is still a great deal of services that should be introduced within the system of child protection, such as kinship care, home-based services, small-size group homes, specialised foster care etc.
(Text taken from the Executive Summary of the publication)