New social services for the elderly in modern Russian non-state social work

IMAGE: This is an assessment of the real impact of Russian religious organizations
on the social situation in the country (percentage of respondents).
view more 

Credit: Lobachevsky University

A team of Lobachevsky University researchers led by Professor Zaretkhan Saralieva is exploring the potential of social services for the elderly by public and religious organizations of modern Russia. Their work is focused on the transformation of social work with the elderly during the last four years in the context of contractual relations in social services and participation of socially-oriented non-profit organizations in the competition for state subsidies.
The study of non-state social work with respect to the elderly involved a content analysis of expert interviews with representatives of religious organizations that provided social services (N = 59) from 2008 to 2013; polling Nizhny Novgorod residents in a quota sample (N = 1976) in 2013-2014; summing up the conversations focused on identifying clients’ religious needs regarding the provision of social services in state-run social institutions (N=53) in 2015-2016; the authors’ observations on the provision of social assistance to the elderly by religious organizations in Nizhny Novgorod, Moscow, Ukraine and Germany during the last 20 years.
A comparative analysis of constructing the ideology of social assistance to the elderly in state institutions, public and religious organizations was undertaken by Lobachevsky University researchers for the first time.
Social policy regarding the elderly in modern Russia has undergone some transformation since the early 1990s. Today, it is focused to a greater extent on senior citizens’ economic independence, active longevity and the realization of their social identity in various spheres of life.
At the same time, social care for the elderly remains the most traditional sphere and reflects many of the stereotypes of the past. State social work with older clients is based on a traditional paradigm, it is characterized by greater rigidity compared to providing social services to other customers who have more resources. Non-governmental social work develops unevenly, and different types of NGOs offer usual forms of care along with innovative ones.
The social work done by religious organizations demonstrates a more stereotyped view of an elderly person as a passive recipient of assistance. In the experts’ rhetoric, there is no appeal to the resources of the elderly or the possibility of their activation. The elderly (potential) clients, as a rule, consider that they should receive assistance in any case. They count on the compassion and mercy of religious organizations’ workers while preferring to receive social and economic services from the state, which is perceived by them as the main resource for assistance.
“Social work carried out by religious organizations in modern Russia shows certain signs of professionalization. One can see here some differences compared to secular social work done by both state institutions and NGOs. The way the clientele is formed, the adaptation of different approaches, the importance of the client’s and the social worker’s religiousness, and the life of the community become important in the development of social work within different confessions,” Zaretkhan Saralieva notes in her research.
The help rendered by religious organizations is aimed at changing the client’s life (this change being connected with the adoption of a religious approach to problem solving) and at the client’s integration into the religious community’s life and his/her constructive interaction with the church social worker.
As a result of the content analysis, it was revealed that one of the important discussion topics was the choice and substantiation of the problems and the clientele of religious organizations’ social work.
According to Associate Professor Irina Petrova, the choice of audiences and the kind of problems to be addressed are substantiated by theological rhetoric. The predominant category of clients are elderly people, they are understood as passive recipients of assistance, who should be taken care of and should be given help. Elderly clergymen, priests’ widows, homeless people, lonely and chronically ill elderly people are the main recipients of assistance. They are referred to in the interviews as passive consumers of services.
In the opinion poll of the population about the social work performed by religious organizations, older people demonstrated a dramatically negative assessment of religious organizations’ real possibilities, which may be explained by their atheistic views.
(See Table 1).
It was shown that as the income of the families decreases, they become less confident that religious organizations can influence the social situation in the country. It can be assumed that low-income respondents expect help more than others and do not actually receive it.
“Elderly respondents tend to pay more attention to social problems that are relevant at their age, including health care costs, issues related to housing and communal services, and they show less interest in the development of culture. The elderly persons are much more willing to receive active assistance from religious organizations for themselves and their peers. This follows from the answers of older age groups in the sample (65% respondents aged from 56 to 65, 71% from 66 to 75, and 70% from 76 to 90). Older respondents seem to be more inclined to passively receive aid and social services from religious organizations,” Irina Petrova comments.
Elderly respondents tend to give preference to the social services rendered by religious organizations in the categories “Compassion” and “Love for people”, but often they give more trust to state-supported social work in such matters as professional education and accessibility. The elderly are always slightly more optimistic than representatives of other age groups when assessing the social services provided by religious organizations. However, the study shows that in most cases respondents did not actually apply for services to religious organizations and assessed them speculatively.
It was also found that the ideology of social work lags behind the guidelines of social policy, and this lag is uneven for different types of social services providers. The state institutions’ main types of activities include making a register of recipients and implementing social services. Non-profit secular social organizations offer a much wider range of social services and are ready to introduce innovations. Religious organizations traditionally regard the elderly as clients of social work and orient them toward passive reception of assistance.
“Elderly persons’ expectations with respect to social services provided by state institutions and religious organizations are focused on receiving assistance passively, while experts from religious organizations look at elderly clients as recipients of aid and ignore their potential resources and the possibility of their activation,” Professor Saralieva notes, citing the results of the study.
Lobachevsky University researchers assume that religious organizations’ social work in modern Russia is likely to continue developing at a slow pace. At the same time, glocalization trends in Russian confessions will be preserved along with the gap in the possibilities for their relations with government agencies. “Adapting the best practices of innovation (including technology innovation) in social work with the elderly offers real prospects for development and provides an additional opportunity for communication to all those who participate in the process of helping the elderly,” concludes Zaretkhan Saralieva.