Faculty of Education Launches Innovation Centre for Social Work
On 19 April 2023, the Innovation Centre - a training, science and knowledge facility focusing on social work - was officially opened at the Department of Social Work of FEDU. The Centre was created in cooperation with UNICEF and with the support of the Embassies of the U.S. and Switzerland in Slovakia.
By: CU External Relations Office
The Innovation Centre interconnects academic and field-based social work, education, research, and working practice. "The centre will enhance the capabilities of social workers, professionals and experts, and will continuously support their educational and research activities. Its role is to generate new ideas, innovative methods, and creative solutions aimed at the needs of disadvantaged and vulnerable groups," Pavol Kopinec from the Department of Social Work of FEDU presents the centre's objectives.
The inflow of refugees caused by the conflict in Ukraine shows how important professionally trained social workers are. Last year UNICEF, the UN agency responsible for providing aid to children, approached the Department of social work and together they developed a project focusing, among other things, on the supervision and training of workers who assist in refugee centres where the majority of occupants are children and women. "There was a need to identify the various traumas of the children and to provide assistance with the processing of these traumas during the initial contact. We developed several teaching modules and have so far trained over 200 social workers," says Pavol Kopinec. Once the Innovation Centre was established and the support of partners was secured, these activities can continue and more can be added like, for example, distance training or research activities. "The launching of the Innovation Centre at the Faculty of Education of Comenius University Bratislava opens a new opportunity for developing and connecting scientific research, education and practical work," said Katarína Žilková, dean of the Faculty of Education of Comenius University. The initiative was supported by UNICEF, and the governments of the United States and of Switzerland.
Cooperation with state agencies and non-governmental organisations
Michaela Bauer highlighted the importance of partnership and cooperation with the Migration Office, the Ministry of the Interior of the Slovak Republic and with non-governmental organisations, because "first-contact support of refugees is a difficult task for any type of organisation, be it state or non-governmental." Thousands of people - women and children - have crossed the border since last February, and it is therefore necessary to invest in enhancing the capabilities of social workers. She also added that even when UNICEF concludes its emergency response work and moves to another country, the idea will live on in Slovakia because there are other vulnerable groups (Roma children, abused women, etc.) that need continued assistance and support. In her speech she wished the innovation centre luck in turning innovations into practice. U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia Gautam A. Rana expressed particular appreciation of the cooperation among several partners. "No organisation was able to handle the wave of refugees alone. We need more partnerships between state agencies, international bodies, national NGOs, and the academic community. Crisis assistance needs to be provided immediately, but at the same time we have to be prepared for the long term, which is the task of this centre. I am very pleased that our Department of State decided to give it support," he said. Melissa Woods Nelson from the Embassy of Switzerland in Slovakia also highlighted the importance of cooperation "in ensuring sustainable aid for Ukrainian children and the Ukrainian displaced ", and she believes the Slovak social work network will be greatly helped by the 200 newly trained social workers. Petra Achbergerová from the Migration Office of the Slovak Ministry of Interior expressed appreciation of the fact that the Innovation Centre would significantly contribute to enhancing the professional quality of social work. Migration Office staff have been and will be trained by university experts in the new Innovation Centre. Jozef Tancer, Vice-Rector of Comenius University for International Relations recognised the fact that the Innovation Centre was opening the university towards cooperation with the environment outside of academia. He also reminded that Ján Amos Komenský, after whom our university is named, was a long-term refugee himself and became involved in helping other persecuted people. "Through activities like this one we fulfil the living legacy of our patron," he said.
Social work students are also significantly involved in the activities of the Innovation Centre and they have been gaining experience while assisting refugees in the field since the beginning of the conflict. To this day, more than 50 students are regularly helping, especially in the Gabčíkovo centre for displaced persons, which houses over one thousand people, one third of them children. "We need the theoretical knowledge and we need to know how to work with the people, what to ask and what not to ask, and to offer appropriate activities," says Veronika Barančuk, a social work student who helped in Gabčíkovo since the beginning of the conflict. Up to 90 percent of students continue to help partly because they received professional training, supervision and assistance. "The innovation centre will also serve as a support centre for student initiatives and projects. Active involvement of young people in the development of educational activities, as well as their participation as research assistants in research projects, will be the driving force of the Innovation Centre," said Associate Professor Kopinec.
The innovation centre will also carry out research activities in the field of social work. Both governmental and non-governmental organizations need accurate data to create effective policies. The centre will focus on exploratory research, individual case studies, data management and the linking of information technology and social sciences.