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Dynamo International – Street Workers Network | Visit of the national platform of Lithuanian street social workers, mission report by Matthieu Forest, Europe Region coordinator

Visit of the national platform of Lithuanian street social workers, mission report by Matthieu Forest, Europe Region coordinator

Dynamo International – Streetworkers Network is composed of 50 national platform divided into 4 Regions: Africa, America, Asia and Europe. Each national platform has appointed a national coordinator and each region a regional coordinator with a role:

  • relay and privileged link for disseminating information (Bottom up & Top down)
  • regional network animation
  • spokesperson and representative of the international network

Matthieu Forest, as part of his mission as Europe Region Coordinator, visited the Lithuanian National Street Social Worker Platform from 28 to 30 October 2019.
Here’s his mission report.

Historical context

1990: Lithuania is the first of the Soviet socialist republics to proclaim its independence. It is also a period of strong social work development. Previously, the system was based on solidarity; there was no child protection system. Street children come out of orphanages, unemployment increases, hard drugs appear on the market.
2004: social work for young people is developed with the support of the EU. Municipalities invest in the Open Youth Centre.
2012: creation of the first street social work team by an NGO with the support of the city of Vilnius.
2013: first contact with Dynamo International
2015: first book in Lithuanian on street social work published with the support of the government
2018: street social work is mentioned and defined in the national youth policy legislation
2019: membership of Dynamo International and first meeting of the national platform

The Lithuanian national platform

The first national meeting, which took place in October 2019 and brought together the 11 active street social workers through 4 cities in Lithuania, formalizes the existence of the Lithuanian Platform of Street Social Work. It is an informal group with no particular legal existence.
The Vilnius Social Club team is currently leading the way and is making the link between the different teams because of its seniority. A group on Facebook allows regular contact between members. In the long term, the sharing of responsibilities should relieve the VSC team, which is particularly invested.
The 5 active national street social work teams implement only youth programmes. The idea is, first of all, to identify a common platform for intervention despite the different intervention contexts. Most of the street social work programs are new, everything is to be built.
The main activity of street social workers is the presence in the public space. These moments spent creating the link with young people then allow them to accompany them individually, if necessary, according to the problems encountered (social breakdown, occupational integration, family difficulties, consumptions, etc.) and to direct them within the specialized network, building bridges between them, institutions and society more broadly. Helping young people find their place in the public space is also a major issue, since they are currently stigmatized and dislocated from most of the places where they gather (shopping malls, stairwells, etc.).
Employed by NGOs, street social workers suffer from a lack of recognition. They are little considered, not recognized as experts. There is a lack of awareness of the partnership network regarding the relatively recent function of street social worker, sometimes leading to confusion with a security approach.
The level of trust given to NGO’s by the authorities is low and financial support is limited, putting social workers in a precarious situation. Like the public they accompany, they themselves must struggle for their own survival. Most of the existing positions are at a partial activity rate. The partnership between the social workers on the street and the government right now is quite limited.
The sustainability of the programmes is conditioned by a major search for private funds, renewed each year and supplementing small-scale municipal, national and European funding. At present, the Youth Department organises occasional seminars on street social work, but there is no real training strategy.
A 4-hour module presenting street social work is offered to students in training at the University of Vilnius. Although street social work does not appear in any official program, the university invites once a year the Vilnius Social Club team to present their work to students, thanks to the personal initiative of a teacher. Students at this university also have the opportunity to do internships with the team.
The Department of Youth has rather an advisory role. It carries out pedagogical work with the municipalities in order to encourage the creation of jobs, since street social work is their responsibility.
The majority of them, especially in rural areas, favour the creation of Mobile Work devices, linked to the Open Youth Centre, focused on the community approach rather than social street work devices, offering a real possibility of accompaniment and networking.

The possible ways of strengthening street social work in Lithuania:

  • The drafting of a social street work charter, written by the social workers themselves, ideally validated by the public authorities
  • The establishment of a legal duty secret to protect sensitive information collected by street social workers
  • The establishment of a protocol of collaboration between street social workers and police, allowing to define a clear framework protecting social workers in the exercise of their duties
  • The proliferation of positions, as well as the development of statistical tools and activity reports to document, underpin and escalate the reality on the ground to funders and policy makers
  • Strengthening the financial support provided by the authorities at local and national level to promote the development of street social work programs.
  • The creation of a real training system for new street social workers but also a continuing training system for those already working on the street.