Key Social Services for Refugee Survivors of Torture

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Ahmad Al-Shouly is social services coordinator at CVT Jordan.

In my work with survivors of torture in Jordan, every day I see how social services are an integral and extremely important element of healing. CVT uses an interdisciplinary model of care in our Jordan program, and social services represent the third angle of CVT’s services triangle, fully integrated with the other two disciplines: mental health counseling and physiotherapy. With this interdisciplinary approach, we are able to better serve beneficiaries (clients).

I started to work for CVT in 2013 as a social worker after a long journey of work extended to 18 years with UN /UNRWA as social services program manager in different locations in the Middle East. I heard about CVT after the Syrian crisis started. 

CVT’s social services program works through referral mechanisms to address the needs for beneficiaries beyond mental health counseling and physiotherapy, and this requires building relationships with main service providers. This requires that we are fully aware of their programs, services, criteria and the target population, and that we enhance the coordination approach through the monthly coordination meetings and individual meetings, and signing of memorandum of understanding (MOU) with them to refer cases.

Social workers usually receive referrals internally from the mental health counselors and physiotherapists during the screening, intake, therapy sessions and also during follow-ups phases. We have a well statured electronic referral system – once the case is received by the social worker, she or he will conduct an interview with the beneficiary to assess their needs and their families as well. This usually happens through an organized interview and in a comfortable environment, with a high level of confidentiality. During the interview, the social worker works to build trust with beneficiaries, explaining to them how we work and the limitations. He or she also works to manage the expectations of beneficiaries and share with them the intervention plan. We respect the beneficiaries’ decisions and desires and any reservation about the referral process.

The social worker has to follow up each referral made to the service provider as well as contact the beneficiary in regular intervals to make sure that the needed service has been delivered. We always follow up on the cases until the needs of the beneficiary are being met. It is also worth mentioning that beneficiaries could have multiple needs to be addressed such as protection from things such as gender-based violence, sexual and gender-based violence and child protection, along with needs for health, legal, educational, financial, food and any other emergency services. This requires us to refer the case to different service providers and to follow up these referrals on a monthly basis.

As it is well known that there were drastic changes on the services provided to refugees by the service providers, part of these changes are related to the level of services and to the decreased service in various programs. CVT social workers always work to find alternatives to serve the most vulnerable cases, for example those who need advanced medical treatment surgeries, which cost a lot and in most times there is no full coverage for such cases. In the social services program, we work with multiple service providers in collective and synergy efforts to cover the cost of medical treatments. This requires tremendous efforts and intensive coordination and collaboration with concerned service providers – locally and globally – to address the needs of beneficiaries. As a recent example, I worked with a case of a Syrian baby. Her name is Amira*, and she was in need of an urgent medical surgery. We at CVT referred the case to one of our partners from Reed Smith LLP, who in turn made tremendous efforts to connect the case on a global level with service providers. It took months to find a service provider for such a case that needed a very complex, expensive and high risk surgery. Ultimately, 24 people and parties internationally were involved to find resources to adapt this case until these collective efforts had succeeded and Amira* got the treatment in Spain.

We have many successful stories where social workers worked hard to alleviate and mitigate the harsh living conditions of beneficiaries and enhanced their protection environment by working closely and intensively with our partners. We feel very pleased when we manage to address the needs of our beneficiaries – we can see the tangible contribution of the social services to improve the psychological status of beneficiaries in parallel with the mental health counseling and physiotherapy programs.  

I very much believe that the positive impact of addressing the most urgent and pressing needs to the most vulnerable people works as a lever to make the healing and the therapy process more efficient leading towards well-being.

In the context of CVT’s interdisciplinary approach in addressing some of high risk cases, we usually assess all the circumstances surrounding the case. We regularly convene meetings with our colleagues in psychosocial counseling and physiotherapy and the supervisors to find the best intervention plan and count the consequences of the referral. We always take into consideration not to add any burden or negative impact of the referral. Social workers sometimes have to accompany the beneficiary who might have suicidal thoughts or attempts to commit suicide or be in grave danger to the service provider after coordination is being made.   

Also the social services program conducts drop-in sessions to our beneficiaries on a weekly basis which aim to raise awareness about the services available for refugees and how to access these services. We realized that there is a need among beneficiaries to learn about what services are available for them and what is the criteria to access these services. Because of this, each week we conduct two sessions in Amman and Zarqa. We cover the main services such as health services, education, legal, protection and financial, providing full details about who’s doing what, where, when and under what conditions. These sessions are usually presented by social workers, and sometime we host people from specialized organizations and entities to conduct specialized sessions such as legal topics.

Moreover, social workers participate in delivering trainings internally to CVT staff and externally to a number of organizations, as well as delivering lectures to undergraduate students in the context of capacity building.  

Finally, our work in social services is special work that also instills hope for a better future to refugees. It is challenging work due to the huge demands by the refugees to secure their basic needs from the humanitarian service providers and due to the shortage and decreased services – this requires us to be always alert to the changes in the services provision and ready to find alternatives to help and to address the most urgent needs of beneficiaries.

*To protect confidentiality and privacy, identities and details of beneficiaries/clients have been changed.

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