Interview with a social worker: "The reality was different from what I expected. Only experience makes you an expert"Published: Mar 18, 2020 Reading time: 8 minutes
Miroslava Haplova joined the Pilsen branch of People in Need in 2015 as an employee of education support and social activation services for families with children in Nýřany. After two-year maternity leave, Miroslava works now as a coordinator of education support and since January she has been involved in the school documentary film screenings within the International Human Rights Film Festival One Wold. She comes from Horažďovice, but currently lives with her husband and daughter in Pilsen. Apart from work and family, Miroslava also studies special needs pedagogy, what was inspired by her work in People in Need.
Did you join People in Need right after graduation from university or did you work somewhere else?
I started working when I was a graduate student, didn’t have much experience in social sector. I was a volunteer for 2-3 years in Here and Now Organization.
What did you study?
I studied social and cultural anthropology here in Pilsen.
What made you work for People in Need?
For me, People in Need has a big name in the non-profit sector. Working for People in Need meant something prestigious and interesting to me, it was something I really wanted. Social issues were close to me, so when I had the chance, I gave it a try – and here I am, grateful. In the years I’ve worked here, I always had a feeling that People in Need works professionally and does its job well, not only in Czech Republic within social integration programmes, but worldwide. I also believe in people working here in People in Need, they do it because they want to. You can sense that from the work atmosphere.
Reality is always different from theory
How was your start here as a graduate without experience?
I was very interested in the social sector and I wanted to focus on it. When I started and during a direct work it was like "ahaaa, that’s what it means.” The difference between expectation and reality was big. I had some image of the group of people with some social disadvantage and overall system, but when I came into practice, I found out how it really was. Reality is always different, especially in a job like this, especially when you're after school. It would be folly to claim to know it all. I didn’t know what was ahead of me. Only the experience makes you an expert. I find it funny now, how someone who has never worked in practice claims to know exactly what is supposed to be done.
You started in the social activation and education support service for families with children, which is very comprehensive service, do you still remember what it was like?
I do. I remember how one came up with some background knowledge, some ideas about the system, but the confrontation with reality, with the particular fates of families, was demanding. Work with children was even more difficult, because they reflect behaviour of a family. Their stories and fates are often not very good. One thing is social work with family as itself, that depends on worker’s mindset and family’s motivation. Second thing is clash of institutions such as social and legal protection of children, educational care centres, pedagogues in schools. It was hard to be taken seriously as I didn’t have much experience after school. It is very difficult to gain certainty in this.
What was the most challenging?
I find the conferences most difficult. It’s a meeting of representatives of school, counseling facility, social and legal protection of children, educational care centres, sometimes the police and others. It’s a difficult environment for a child, parents and for me. I was often the person, who knew the family the best, because I’ve spent most of my time with them. Thanks to that, the families could open up and say things that could help them to solve the situation. Yet I was in a difficult position at the negotiations, very often treated as an unequal partner. You know the family, the context, but to get through was difficult. Nowadays I can handle this better than when I was at the beginning.
What helps to handle these difficult situations?
Talking about it with colleagues, whether within or across services. That was probably the best support. You share the experiences as well as knowledge. You always have someone to turn to – the coordinators, colleagues, who will support you and cheer you up. When you work longer, you gain experience and knowledge. If you get stuck, do not take it as a drama, nobody bites you in the negotiations. Also, further education helps.
For how long have you been doing this job?
About two years. In June 2017 I took maternity leave and in May 2019 I returned as part-time education support coordinator.
It is important to promote equality of conditions in education
What is Education support service?
The essence of the service is tutoring children and working with the whole family. We are increasingly focusing on this. It’s about the competencies of the parent, orientation in matters concerning the education of a kid, the importance of education and so on.
Tell me more about tutoring.
We have two forms of tutoring – individual and group. Group one is focused on families, where parents able to prepare a child for school, don’t need special communication with school or mediation special care. However, supporting their child in specific topic is rather difficult for them. We meet in our clubs or in schools and focus on specific education needs of the child, according to their age and class they attend. Individual tutoring occurs right in the family. We show the parents how to prepare child for school, how to learn with children so they can do it in the future without our help.
Do only our staff tutor?
Volunteers help with that a lot. We are glad, that their number has increased especially in the past year. We appreciate the work of volunteers and welcome everyone to the team. We wouldn’t be able to tutor in this range without them.
Are there any problems related to tutoring?
We believe that it is important to promote an equality of conditions in education. We came to the conclusion that not all institutions perceive it in the same way. Some also do not accept that the right to education is enshrined in law. Many schools are not willing to create conditions for children with special education needs. We often face families, who are eligible for education support, but the school doesn’t take any action. It’s the end of the year, the child lacks of knowledge, but has no educational plan nor pedagogical support. The school didn’t direct the parents to the counselling facility nor used any tools at its disposal. We begin to communicate with the school, with parents and try to catch up on things and make them right. Schools often fail to fulfil legal obligations. Parents can take their child to the school counselling center for examination, however not every parent knows about this possibility. It is not the duty of the parent, but it is the duty of the school to inform the parents. The school has a duty to guarantee education. It is an indifference to support children with special needs.
Do you have some good experience with schools?
Not so often. But it doesn’t mean there is no good experience. When a school is able to support families and children with special education needs, they don’t need our help. We help when there is a problem.
Can you give me some example of what you do?
A colleague of my is working with parents and their daughter, who was so bullied in primary school, so she had to be educated individually. The consequence of the bully was a mental disorder – a form of social phobia. It became difficult to her to move independently in public space, such as travel by public transport. She also lacked social contact. But the family was unable to afford all of the home study. My colleague started tutoring their daughter, they were looking for opportunities to spend free time and chose high school. Together they applied for art school, attended an open day and started preparing for the entrance exams. The colleague is trying to show that it is not just a matter of solving the daughter's education, but it is necessary to find appropriate psychotherapeutic help for her and for the whole family.
What else is part of your work?
I represent the organization as part of the service in contact with other institutions. For example, I am a member of working groups for planning in education, primary prevention, etc. I also participate in methodological and organizational meetings. These are both administrative and organizational issues, as well as a lot of interesting experience in leading people and project management. But I miss direct work with clients. In the future I would like to extend my work time.
One World festival is taking place in Pilsen at the end of March, are you being involved?
I used to be a visitor of the festival when I studied at university. In 2016 I got the chance to be part of a festival team in Pilsen. We were planning, organising the screenings and moderation. I was even moderating the screenings at schools, that was great. I liked the enthusiasm of students. If a guest comes to the discussion after the public screening, it was a professional debate on a certain topic.
This year I am the coordinator of school screenings in Pilsen. A part of my job is co-decision about the program, moderating etc. We focus a lot on the quality of debates with school children and students after screenings.