The Agenda of Social Services in 2021

Emine Özmete
Prof. Dr., Ankara University, Faculty of Health Sciences, Faculty Member of the Department of Social Service

The most fundamental function of social services is to improve the lives of individuals, families, groups, and society, while the main perspective of it is social development. Social development concentrates on institutions of society, and it deals with the implementation of social programs. The agenda of social services as the implementation tool of social policies is determined by the relationship and cooperation between concepts and implementations. The differences and similarities between the main concerns of social development and applied social services manifest in methods and resources to use. The purpose of social development is to increase economic, social, and cultural alternatives for people to decide without restraint. This approach embraces a holistic perspective that brings together sustainability concepts such as empowerment, equality, justice, rights, and efficiency. For the last several decades, the world has witnessed social and environmental issues such as increasing population across the world, migration, urbanization, uncontrolled industrial waste, insufficient infrastructure, destruction of natural resources (sea, forests, air, etc.), ecological imbalance, and decrease in the number of individuals who have access to safe drinking water.

While the net worth of the 42 wealthiest people in the world is equal to the income of 3.6 billion people, which corresponds to 50% of the world population, the income of the 10 wealthiest countries is exactly 77 times the income of the 10 poorest countries. More than half of the world consists of undernourished poor people, whom are deprived of basic rights. With an approach based on social justice and human rights, social service plays an important role in improving the quality of life of all individuals, families, and vulnerable groups. 

In this regard, it can be said that there are two main issues regarding both life quality and sustainability: One of them is “meeting the needs,” and the other is “setting the boundaries for the use of resources.” While the former is specifically about meeting the basic needs of the poor, the latter indicates the protection of resources enough to meet the needs of both today and tomorrow’s generation.

Social services aim to ensure social change, problem-solving in human relations, improvement, engagement, and freedom. It deals with the interaction between an individual and their surroundings by using human behavior and social system theories. Therefore, social service is a process, and the end goal is to improve people’s welfare. Along this process, social service implementations adopt human rights and social justice principles. The social services concentrate on global agendas, local manifestations of global issues, and local agendas.

Türkiye acts on a universal sense of obligation in disasters and emergencies in different parts of the world. The philanthropic values of its people demonstrate the warmest side of the centuries-old history of Türkiye, and helping those in need is one of the most basic teachings of the culture. Moreover, it is the most generous country in the world thanks to its solid social service structure as well as the institutionalization and improvement of volunteering with the help of non-governmental organizations such as the Turkish Red Crescent. During the pandemic, Türkiye conducted activities in various regions to meet health needs including vaccines. Türkiye’s human rights-based approach to migration and refugees in the field of diplomacy and humanitarian aid has an impact on multiple countries, especially on European countries. Türkiye hosts 5.4 million foreigners as of 2021. Refugees are provided with health, education, and social services in accordance with a rights-based approach. By mobilizing all its resources, Türkiye has been undeniably successful in preventing issues such as xenophobia and discrimination, which are frequently discussed in the international community.

In addition to the global agenda affecting human welfare, Türkiye experienced local-level emergencies requiring social service in 2021. Social services concentrated on natural disasters and emergencies in Türkiye, and the long-term psychosocial and economic impacts of COVID-19 on individuals, families, and communities. In addition, social services were provided to refugees and vulnerable individuals and groups among Turkish citizens, and activities were conducted to improve service quality.

In order to alleviate the negative impacts of COVID-19, the Ministry of Family and Social Services expanded the scope of social protection through additional social aids in phases. Within the scope of the Full Curfew Social Aid Programme, people in need were provided with 1,100 TRY cash assistance since April 2020. People in financially challenging situations due to COVID-19, and who struggled to meet their basic needs were provided with additional support via the “Social Support Program and National Solidarity Campaign” within the scope of the “Social Protection Shield Package.” The pandemic period was acknowledged as an “emergency” according to the related provision stated in Article 2 of the Law on Social Assistance and Solidarity 3294, and some households that had not receive social aid before the pandemic were provided with social aid as they were at temporary risk of poverty.1

The “Pandemic Social Support Program” was implemented in three phases (Phase I, Phase II, Phase III) within the scope of the “Social Protection Shield Package,” which was created to alleviate the impacts of COVID-19. 2.3 billion TRY cash assistance was provided within the scope of Phase III. Citizens in need were provided with additional support via the “We are Self-Sufficient, Türkiye National Solidarity Campaign” carried out by the Ministry of Family and Social Services. Within the scope of the campaign, a total of 2,078,252,487 TRY was transferred into the Social Assistance and Solidarity Incentive Fund, and within the scope of the National Solidarity Campaign, a total of 5.3 million TRY was distributed to more than 5,000 households, accounting to 1,000 TRY each.2

During the pandemic period, individuals and families were affected economically and psychosocially. Individuals affected by the pandemic had free access to psychosocial support services whenever needed through Social Service Centers of the province in which they reside, and the Provincial Directorate of the Ministry of Family and Social Services. Psychosocial support, face-to-face or by telephone, was provided especially to those who lost their loved ones due to COVID-19 by taking necessary measures within the framework of the rules determined by the Provincial Boards of Public Health.

Training on Psychosocial Support Services throughout the Pandemic in Disasters and Emergencies was provided to 582 personnel mostly consisting of social workers and psychologists in order to reduce stress and burnout experienced by service providers due to busy schedules and long working hours, and to ensure professional development in knowledge and skills regarding working with cases in the pandemic period.3

To enable the access of individuals and families in society to social services they need and to ensure support for solving the problems they faced, the number of social service centers reached 370 as of 2021. Social analyzes were performed in a total of 2.8 million households, and the number of personnel working within the scope of the Family Social Support Program (ASDEP) has been conducted supply-oriented for individuals and families to utilize public services effectively. Affiliated with the Ministry of Family and Social Services, the number of nursing and rehabilitation centers providing boarding services for the disabled reached 104, and the number of daycare centers reached 280 as of September 2021. The number and capacity of nursing homes affiliated with the Ministry increased 2.5 times compared to 2002, and the number of nursing homes reached 162 as of September 2021. 3 million TRY resources were allocated for 2021 within the scope of the Elderly Support Program (YADES), which aims to increase the role and services of local authorities in services provided to the elderly. The 4th National Action Plan on the Elimination of Violence Against Women was issued by the Ministry of Family and Social Services, and a circular on the “Elimination of Violence Against Women” were sent out to 81 provinces. Women victim to violence with boys above 12 years of age were provided with two-room apartments in one of the women’s guest houses in Ankara and Istanbul. The number of women guest houses across Türkiye reached 149, and the capacity of these guest houses reached 3,624. Based on the average of the last three years, 47% of the women receive services due to violence and 53% for shelter reasons in women’s guest houses. Strategies were developed to help women contribute to production within the scope of the women’s cooperatives.

Services provided to children were thoroughly conducted in 2021 by the Ministry of Family and Social Services. The rate of children who benefit from family-oriented services was 39% in 2021, and this ratio reached 95% by the end of the year. Children’s protection services are provided in a broad sense from the protection of children’s rights, addiction, cyberbullying, social media, and obscene publications, to mobile children’s services. The families of martyrs and veterans are also supported.

The Ministry of Family and Social Services continued its activities in 2021 by adopting goals to improve service capacity and to provide psychosocial services intended for individuals, families, and society in a coordinated and effective manner in migration, disasters, and emergencies.4 Moreover, it was intended for psychosocial support training to be provided to 1,000 personnel, and the Psychosocial Support Training Manual regarding psychosocial support services in disasters/emergencies to be issued.5

“Local Harmonization Meetings” to improve social harmonization between the host community and foreigners in Türkiye were held in various provinces in cooperation with the Presidency of Migration Management of the Ministry of Interior and the International Organization of Migration (IOM). These meetings concentrated on improving the capacity of information services provided to foreigners, developing information tools to raise awareness of foreigners and Turkish society, and local-level social harmonization activities. Within the scope of the Support to Harmonization in Türkiye Project initiated by the Presidency of Migration Management of the Ministry of Interior in cooperation with the World Bank and the Turkish Red Crescent to promote social harmonization processes of foreigners living in Türkiye; technology workshops, sports activities, and mobile theatre activities were conducted especially in provinces close to borders where the migrant population is high.6

The intensity and frequency of natural disasters in Türkiye increased due to worsening climate and environmental parameters in 2021. Provincial Directorates of Family and Social Services responded directly to disasters with support services by psychosocial teams and social assistance. As of 28 July 2021, within the scope of these activities 859 personnel responded to Antalya, Muğla, Adana, Artvin, Aydın, Isparta, Kayseri, Mersin ve Osmaniye forest fires, and 17,488 people were provided with psychosocial support training. 586 personnel lent a helping hand to 5,310 people in Kastamonu, Bartın, and Sinop flood disasters that occurred on 11 August 2021, and a total of 22,798 people were provided with psychosocial support offered by 1,445 personnel.7

Psychological first aid, needs and resources assessments, psychoeducation sessions, and individual meetings intended for disaster victims in the affected area were conducted especially following the flood and fire disasters that occurred in 2021. Psychosocial support teams organized support programs for groups with special needs such as the elderly, disabled, infants, and children. Moreover, psychosocial services were provided to relatives of the injured and the deceased after a disaster. Personnel who work in the disaster field were provided with support services concentrating on psychological information, improving self-care skills, and emotionally focused therapy. Children support centers were created, and some activities were conducted, such as psychoeducation sessions for different age groups, psychological information for parents, privacy training, and the grief process of children, and emotion regulation with the help of thematic games. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, food and clothing needs, the need for safe shelter, and psychosocial support needs are met in disasters and emergencies, respectively. With consideration for human dignity, these services are designed and provided simultaneously.

Mobile social service centers through mobile coordination were actively utilized in the field since villages and districts away from the provincial center were affected by fires and floods. Social improvement activities were planned for regions affected by the disaster to go back to normal and to improve the self-help skills of disaster victims. “Social Market” and “Mobile Social Market” services were initiated to meet various needs of disaster victims and to provide them with aid in-kind as soon as possible. Public institutions and organizations, and also volunteers worked together to provide relief in the disaster field. Disasters that occurred during the pandemic period in 2021 resulted in the development of innovative social service models and adoption of a flexible, quick, and resilient attitude for institutions. The activities conducted by the “Vefa Social Support Groups,” which were established in 2021 due to the pandemic, transformed into the National Social Service Program.

Social service implementations in disasters in Türkiye began to be regulated to determine the scope of activities. Disaster prevention consciousness training programs were provided to various target groups such as occupational groups, citizens, students, non-governmental organizations to raise social awareness of disasters and emergencies in the development plan, develop the capacity of local-level disaster management units. Aiming to improve the quality of psychosocial support services, the Ministry of Family and Social Services provides training programs to enhance the professional knowledge and skills of the personnel working in disaster and emergency fields, along with the train the trainer programs to ensure the sustainability of psychosocial support training programs.8

The contribution of volunteers in emergencies, especially in social services is acknowledged and activities have been initiated for the organization and efficiency of volunteer activities with the participation and support of volunteers. It is planned to hold briefings and provide training programs via Genclik Radyosu (Youth Radio run by the Ministry of Youth and Sports) to raise awareness of volunteering in social services. The organizational capacity of the Damla Volunteering Movement by the Genç Gönüllüler Platformu (Young Volunteers Platform) was increased and NGOs were promoted to register into the platform.

It is aimed to increase the active participation of young people in social life, strengthen their sense of social belonging, and develop awareness and culture of social responsibility and volunteering among young people through the services, mobility programs, and socio-cultural activities carried out in youth centers and camps.9

Within the scope of the “2019 Volunteering Year,” “Blue room-volunteer offices” were established in youth centers and young offices to encourage young people to participate in volunteering activities, and to concentrate on volunteering actions. The number of these rooms reached 190 as of October 2021. Since 2019 Türkiye has participated in the European Solidarity Corps (ESC), which supports volunteering, solidarity, employment, and internship activities, along with the current EU education and youth programs intended for improving mobility and volunteering activities across Europe. Progress has been made in capacity building, volunteering and social entrepreneurship, and cooperation with central and local public institutions. Extensive activities have been conducted by the Directorate General of Civil Society Relations (STİGM) which was established to strengthen civil society, capacity building for NGOs, and ensure the wholesome coordination of policies and implementations in civil society. Civil society activities play an integral role in meeting social needs arisen due to COVID-19. Activities concerning cooperation with NGOs regarding the social and environmental impacts of the pandemic, will continue in the forthcoming period.9

Lessons and Suggestions

The Ministry of Family and Social Policies merged with the Ministry of Labor and Social Security in 2018, and the Ministry of Family, Labor, and Social Services was established. It was restructured and renamed the “Ministry of Family and Social Services” in 2021. The main concern of 2021 was the pandemic and natural disasters, along with the protection of women, children, and families, services provided to the disabled, elderly, and veterans, identifying social policies and strategies, and capacity building in some fields such as social assistance. Social services made progress as training programs for service providers and prospective trainers were developed, service quality standards were improved, innovative social service implementations were created, and national social programs were conducted in cooperation and coordination. During this period, we showed that we have potential to quickly find solutions in social services against both global problems and local disasters and emergencies.

The services provided to vulnerable groups such as the disabled and the elderly continued in the most effective way during the pandemic. The elderly were successfully protected as a result of the innovative care models created in this period, especially measurements taken in institutional care and rehabilitation services and lockdown institutions.

Vaccination rates are still not enough, and the pandemic period continues even though vaccines were developed. New variants trigger anxiety in society. Humankind should be ready for new viruses in the upcoming period, as in the last 10 years. In this sense, we may experience one pandemic after another. The continuation of the pandemic increases the need for mental health services. During this period, Türkiye will continue to protect vulnerable groups and provide social services as part of its solid welfare state structure.

In 2021, the concept of “solidarity” gained so much importance during the pandemic and disasters. The bond between institutions and individuals and families became stronger as part of the solidarity culture. The state and the nation worked towards the same goal.

Extensive services were provided in an attempt to empower individuals, families, and society, and to meet the primary needs of the vulnerable groups in 2021 when we experienced emergencies and crises. It should be stated that individuals and groups who were negatively affected by this period and became vulnerable will continue to be supported in many aspects including economic, social, and psychological. There is a need for developing sustainable solution programs designed for supporting workers in the fields of care, social services, and health in order to help them cope with stress and burnout caused by their hard work and vigorous efforts during the pandemic period.

Distances were eliminated thanks to technological advancements. Due to the lockdown and social distancing measures, the elderly had to use smartphones they were not familiar with before. It would be a great idea to conduct programs for the elderly to improve their knowledge and skills in using digital communication devices such as smartphones and online applications.

As a concluding remark, I would like to emphasize that the end goal of all these efforts and social services is “to leave no one behind.”

1. Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Services (2021). E-bulletin, 2021 september october.

2. Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Services (18 November 2021) 2021 performance program.

3. Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Services (2021). E-bulletin, 2021 september october.

4. TR Presidency Strategy and Budget Office (17 November 2021). 2022 presidential annual program. Wintle, B.A., Legge, S. ve Woinarski, J.C.Z. (2020). After the Megafires: what next for Australian Wildlife? Trends in Ecology & Evolution,35, 753–757

5. TR Presidency Strategy and Budget Office (17 November 2021). 2022 presidential annual program.

6. Directorate of Migration Management (15 November 2021). Sosyal hayata uyumun desteklenmesi projesi kapsamında Нeşitli etkinlikler gerçekleştirildi.

7. Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Services. (26 August 2021). Orman yangınları ve sel felaketlerine ilişkin psikososyal destek Нalışmaları devam ediyor.

8. Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Services. (26 August 2021). Orman yangınları ve sel felaketlerine ilişkin psikososyal destek Нalışmaları devam ediyor.

9. TR Presidency Strategy and Budget Office (17 November 2021). 2022 presidential annual program.

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