This article was originally published in the EQUASS 2012 Annual Report.
Astangu Vocational Rehabilitation Center was founded in 1995 under the administration of the Ministry of Social Affairs. EQUASS Assurance has been implemented in Estonia in 2010 and 2011 with the support of the European Social Fund. Astangu has been acting as EQUASS Local Licence Holder in Estonia since January 2012 after having practiced this role in 2010 and 2011, thanks to the ESF capacity-building funds.
When and why did you start your activity as LLH (Local Licence Holder) of EQUASS?
Implementation of EQUASS Assurance in Estonia started in 2010 with the pilot project ran by Astangu VRC and with the support of European Social Fund. The project lasted for 2 years and we had 7 brave pilots (rehabilitation service providers) to first implement the quality system (including Astangu itself). EPR was contracted as a guiding/ training/ capacity building partner in this process to support us in implementation. As the pilots were successful we went a bit wider with the implementations and supported the Ministry of Social Affairs to set quality criteria for the rehabilitation service providers into the law. By then it was clear we needed a LLH to manage all these applications so we signed a LLH agreement in the beginning of 2012.
How would you describe your experience of operating the licence of EQUASS Assurance certification process in your country?
Implementing EQUASS has been possible with the support of ESF funding so we are not totally independent and sustainable. After the pilot we started with another 2-year cycle with 35 service providers (incl. welfare, rehabilitation, different services offered by local authorities). This process will be finished in the end of 2013 and what comes after this is unclear. The new Social Welfare Act that includes the quality requirements for the rehabilitation service providers will hopefully be accepted by the end of 2013. For EQUASS Estonia, it is more than just being a license holder for EQUASS Assurance. Our responsibilities and intentions are a bit wider: to promote quality of social services in Estonia, to keep the quality topic "on the table" when developing the services, to put pressure on the Ministry of Social Affairs to better regulate the services; to carry out the analyses of the possible future developments of the quality requirements and so on.
What have been the greatest challenges and the greatest achievements?
The greatest achievement was of course winning the annual prise of Estonian Quality Association- The Achievement of the Year 2011. We competed with big international and local companies with long history in quality implementation. The argument of winning the prize was the scope of our activities - not a single company or enterprise but Estonia as a whole, as the pilots in the first project period were from different places of Estonia and our aim is to have an influence on all the social services in Estonia.
The biggest challenge even now is to stay in business, to secure sustainability of LLH in Estonia- to support the Ministry in making good decisions; to convince the funders and service providers about the need of raising quality of services; to build up capacity to be able to support service providers in development of quality and implementation of the quality system.
How is the perception of EQUASS as a European system with a local partner in your country?
EQUASS is getting more and more known in Estonia. For those who implement the system the first time, it is of course a big step to take. First, to understand the system, the principles, the criteria and then to try to integrate the system into their daily work. For those who already have got the certificate, it is very much appreciated and they see the real benefits of having a quality system implemented and living with it.
Could you give us an insight on some developments that you are planning to implement in order to offer the best service possible to the applicants in your country, or offer a wider dissemination of the quality mark?
In autumn 2012 we started with a wider analysis of the social sector from the perspective of quality. The researcher carries out interviews of different stakeholders and is mapping all the existing systems, regulations of the quality issues that are concerned with the quality of social services. This spring we go on with strategy seminars to most important decision makers (The Ministry of Social Affairs) to decide on the next step to be taken to regulate the sector, the services, the financing of the services. By the end of this year we hope to have a strategy for quality development and concrete action plans to move towards the aims we have set. Hopefully the sector will benefit a lot from this initiative! At the same time we are training representatives of most important stakeholders about quality management and the theoretical and historical aspects on quality development in the world. This training programme is carried out by the Estonian Quality Association and consists of 8 full days of lectures and practical work. These two above mentioned actions are carried out within a project that we wrote in 2012 and that was financed by ESF.
When planning the future activities we see a bigger need to support service providers in understanding quality, its implementation and its development. We need overall capacity building on quality and with the dissemination of EQUASS in Estonia all the work for creating awareness has a very practical dimension in it.
Where do you see EQUASS Assurance in 3 to 5 years of time in your country?
If everything goes according to plan, then I see it ruling within social services- on top of the list!