Social Policy Appraisal
An urgent matter, specially for children
by Lissette Pérez Hernández, Ph.D.
Professor at the University of Havana School of Law
Faculty Chair at the Training School for Social Workers in Cojímar, Cuba
“On behalf of children we work, because children are the ones who know to love, because children are the hope of the World.”
Foundations for Social Policy Development
Social policies are crucial for the stability of a democracy, they reflect people’s interests in government and stimulate consensual growth and management of the political system. People’s trust in democracy depends on the fulfillment of their material needs, and through trust, democracy is strengthened in all its socioeconomic dimensions. Confidence in the democratic system engenders progress and
development for all, above any other social political scheme.
Existing inequalities in contemporary societies conspire against
democracy. A nation’s development is stifled by corrupt electoral processes and representative institutions and leaders who fail to meet their commitments -- in effect, thwarting people’s will, making government illegitimate and weakening democratic institutions. Social and political projects would be sustainable if their intended beneficiaries were to be fully committed to their formulation and practice. It is necessary to refine the search for project goals in order to develop institutional systems that guarantee the full exercise of democracy according to a country’s traditions and possibilities.
As a requisite to social progress and democracy, citizens must be availed of
opportunities to participate in solving their countries’ problems. Full citizen participation guarantees development and equality of possibilities in politics and economics -- translating
into equal opportunities to frame and carry out political decisions.
Underdeveloped countries, scarce in resources, must be clear about their priorities in developing a social agenda in order to balance economic and social aspirations of their citizens. Economic growth alone is not sufficient for development and prosperity. Social interests are basic indicators of the quality of a nation’s development; a quality that should be measured with objective criteria to expresses social reality, quality of life, and effectiveness of governance.
The effectiveness of governance at the local level relies on the application of democratic principles and the conscious participation afforded to people in general. Democracy requires people participation in community and national affairs. Participatory democratic skills are
gained as a result of a direct, systematic and progressive education with wide social and civics teaching component.
Public policies that stimulate community participation are strengthened through the development of civic conscience. Civics Education prepares citizens for meeting their obligations and for the recognition of their individual rights as well as the rights of others. It promotes governance principles and generates a sense of individual and collective social responsibility.
Civics Education constitutes an efficient mechanism for people’s social empowerment, because it promotes knowledge about moral and juridical norms that give participation-potential to children in community and national affairs. It permits the conscious assimilation of social values and thus serves as a fountainhead for the prevention of conduct deemed harmful to society.
Family and state are responsible for providing basic civics education, and they in turn may be assisted by all means of communication in offering a solid basis of civics teachings for all citizens. Civics education must begin in early childhood, and schools must become dissemination centers that permit children to expand and reproduce the teachings received. Consequently, schools grow in social responsibility and play a central role in a sustainable effort to promulgate civics and lawfulness.
Priority of Social Projects
In Cuba, issues of social concern are prioritized within the structure of the political system. This is evident in various projects directed toward different sectors of society – children, youth, women, seniors, and the disabled.
Some projects are directed toward highly vulnerable and fragile sectors of society – children and youth. Social projects concerning children and youth are guided by the following principle: “A social order that ignores children has no right to a future.”
Rights of Children and Youth
In 1978, Cuba promulgated the Children and Youth Code; and later became a signatory
of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children. Parent-child relations and responsibilities are currently regulated by the Cuban Constitution and the Family Code.
Cuban children have rights to an identity, a name, and a citizenship, besides being guaranteed the right to life through the implementation of various programs by the Cuban State. These programs address various social, health and family issues that include: mother-infant care, family health plan, birth-weight reduction, breast feeding promotion, immunizations, genetic disease prevention with early diagnose, and examination and monitoring of growth development for children under 5 years of age. Through programs like those mentioned above, infant mortality has been dropped to 7.2 per 1000 live births.
Children and youth have a constitutional right to an education, provided free as a function of the state. Education is guaranteed through a vast system of schools, partial and full boarding schools, and scholarships available at all levels and for all fields of study. School materials are distributed free of cost, and in this manner any child or youth, without regards to family income,
is given the opportunity to enroll in courses according to their abilities, social requirements, and the county’s needs for economic and social development. School enrolment for children between 6 and 11 years of age has reached 100%.
∙ Every child or youth has a right to physical education and participation in sports and recreation activities. This right is guaranteed by the inclusion of physical education and sports in the national education plans.
∙ Child Care Centers are a preschool education variant that permit the incorporation of mothers into the labor force outside their homes.
∙ The education of children, from early childhood, is guided by principles of human equality.
∙ Special Education plays an important function in children education. This type of education includes a conglomerate of schools and institutions, instruction modalities, teaching resources, assistance, counseling and training for the service of children with special educational needs as well as for their families and teachers.
∙ Cuban education is infused with social participation. Children are incorporated from early years of schooling into student organizations. Education programs include innovative methods to assist children in forming and stating their own opinions. Their opinions are respected and their advices are taken into account.
∙ The work of adolescents between 15 and 16 years of age is exceptionally recognized. Working conditions are regulated with shifts that may neither exceed 7 hours per day nor 40 hours per week.
∙ To provide incentives for computer education, 300 Computer Youth Clubs have been created, with more that 10 up-to-date models in each club with unlimited access and cost-free for young people.
EDUCATION AS PROTAGONIST OF SOCIAL POLICIES
by Lissette Pérez Hernández, Ph.D.
Professor at the University of Havana School of Law
Faculty Chair at the Training School for Social Workers in Cojímar, Cuba
A Training College for Social Workers
The School of Social Work, in the town of Cojímar outside Havana, was founded on September 2000; it is an educational institution for mid-school graduates between the ages of
16 and 22 who are not engaged in school or work. The school provides professional careers in social work for young people who in turn reach out to unemployed and out-of-school minors in an effort to insert them into society through intensive training as social workers.
The academic program integrates courses from various fields into a unified curriculum.
It offers opportunities to address behavior problems of individuals within the larger concerns of country, family and community. These courses include: Sociology and Applied Social Work, Urban Sociology, Community Social Work, Social prevention, Research Methodology, Current Socialist Society in Cuba, Law, Social Communication, Psychology, Computer Science, Spanish Language and a Foreign Language of choice.
Parallel to the study program, the students design and engage in workshops on participatory techniques, sex education, and different seminars on problems of social relevance. As a graduation requirement, the students conduct field-work that includes interviews with youth, in their neighborhoods of residence, who are not involved in school or work. Through these interviews, the future social worker gleans knowledge about work potential or vocational career interests that these young people may have. The obtained information permits assessment of youth conduct with regards to reasons for not working or studying. Furthermore, in conjunction with the family doctor, children between 0 and 5 years of age with perceived social disadvantages are given particular attention for future analysis and possible intervention by a social worker.
From a juridical perspective, undertaken actions and teaching objectives were addressed by the following topics:
∙ The Political System in Cuban Society
‒ Formative elements: institutional, political, ideological and functional;
∙ The Cuban State
‒ Theoretical Foundation of the State: its structure, organization and functioning, socialist democracy and popular participation;
‒ State Entities and the People’s Power System;
∙ Law and the Cuban Judicial System
– The role of law in Cuban society, its dimensions: regulative, political, juridical and axiologic;
‒ The Constitution and its juridical importance, political and social;
∙ Human Rights and their expression in Cuba
‒ Theoretical Foundations, Expression of Rights in Cuba;
‒ Labor law in Cuba: labor rights, responsibility, labor procedures, assistance and social security;
‒ Institutions of Family Law: marriage, divorce, paternal-filial relations, tutelage, adoption;
‒ The rights of children and youth;
‒ The State, society, school and family as guarantors of rights;
‒ Basic legal requirements;
‒ Illegalities and their main manifestations;
‒ The Penal social system, Delinquency and other antisocial behavior;
‒ Prevention work in society, prevention of delinquency and other antisocial manifestations;
‒ Care, assistance and judicial treatment of crime victims; and
‒ The penal system.
Workshops on the rights of children, youth and adolescents complement the academic curriculum. Debates are conducted on international documents and on the various legal bodies that regulate the Convention on the Rights of Children. Visits to prisons are organized for on-site learning about incarceration and the prison system.
Social Work curriculum is developed with great care and concern about objectives and desired outcomes for students and society at large. The faculty takes a multidisciplinary approach, beyond the fulfillment of specific course requirement, to awaken in youth an interest in learning and a desire to engage in labor as decent human beings. Students are taught that long-term life objectives may be reached by overcoming small difficulties. Teachers are inspired by young students who redirect their lives in a constructive way, bringing peace and hope to their friends and families.
Up to now, 1079 students have graduated and 2000 students are enrolled at the Cojímar School. The program for the year 2001 has been extended to all provinces, and three new schools have opened for the training and accreditation of social workers in Santa Clara, Holguín and Santiago de Cuba. Graduates from these schools may enroll in study programs for workers (Cursos para Trabajadores)1, with a choice of eight university majors, particularly in the humanities, and a guarantee of immediate employment.
Research/Action Project for Social Development
The School of Law directs a multidisciplinary research-action project about the contribution of civics education in political participation, development of values for improving democracy, and prevention of antisocial behavior. The project’s main objective is to advance civics education in the general population through teacher certification programs and community leadership training. Consequently, the project also seeks to improve social discipline, participation in local affairs, and delinquency prevention.
1Special courses and university programs designed for workers to pursue professional training or a university degree.
The project aims to achieve quantitative and qualitative transformations in children by strengthening their feelings of solidarity with other human beings. It aims as well to develop a greater sense of respect for others, towards social-juridical norms, for the environment, and for coexistence as a strategy for bringing schools closer to family and community. The project is rooted on the principle that education is both a basic necessity for children and a requirement for social development.
Civics education in Cuba includes practical applications that go beyond mere academic requirements. It aims to:
∙ Transmit knowledge and stimulate participation, by children and youth, in community affairs, to strengthen feelings of community belonging, and to develop political and patriotic values;
∙ Contribute in the development of talents and abilities to raise political participation and cooperation in the solution of social problems;
∙ Expand neighborhood schools into centers of social and cultural life, with children and youth as their main actors;
∙ Strengthen moral and ethical values in children and youth;
∙ Emphasize the role played by law in society for citizen’s safety and protection;
∙ Support community groups that work on prevention of social misconduct;
∙ Train and entitle community leaders;
∙ Support the electoral process, through the training of children and youth in the protection of ballot boxes and the supervision of the electoral process;
∙ Demonstrate the potential of schools for the achievement of quantitative and qualitative social transformations; and
∙ Promote political participation by children and youth with a vision towards their future participation as adults in government and the social life of their communities.
Social research for this project links information, its processing and analysis, with the participation of community social actors to effect proposed changes in youth and society. The work entails community action in response to local government requests. It is a university extension work mainly carried out by the Office of Student Residences (Gabinete Legal de las Residencias Estudiantiles)2.
2 Small collective offices organized by law students under the supervision of the law faculty in order to give free legal advice to anyone in the community. This practice forms part of the legal training of law students.
Social analyses of problems afflicting children are based on the rights of the individual living in a political democracy. Social policies, together with the time and resources applied to them, are indicators of the respect bestowed by society on its citizens.
There is general consensus on the need to protect children’s rights. Children are destined to be beneficiaries of juridical norms and must be granted protection under international human rights agreements. They, like all citizens, must be endowed with rights.
The Convention on the Rights of Children, ratified by most Nations, constitutes a valuable contribution in the development of laws for child protection and elevates their social standing both nationally and internationally. Children’s rights are far from being observed, especially in countries where a dichotomy exists between political discourse and actual practice. Effective international norms must supercede practices that result in abuse and injustice towards this vulnerable segment of society.
Despite the fact that new tools and international organizations are available in the fight against injustice, children continue to bear much of the brunt of poverty and social injustice. In Latin America, for example, the majority of the poor are children and most children are poor.
To protect the rights of children, coherent social policies are needed to raise life expectancy and improve the quality of life. It is evident that when resources, even if few, are well administered, those resources invested in the empowerment of human beings will yield rich dividends.
The rights of children, as well as human rights in general, are a byproduct of an arduous fight for new paradigms for justice and utopias, rationally and emotionally defended for the benefit of the entire human race.
Urgent attention to children’s rights is essential to the future of humanity.