Voices from the Borders: Social Work responds to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine

ASproAS activity at the borders is financed by


The following case study describes the range of challenges, problems and some qualitative details of practical interventions in social work with people fleeing war.

It was also necessary to reconcile the humanitarian aid of various NGOs with the approach of professional social work.


What exactly does social work support mean?

How do we help?


In the case study, we have focused on some of the intervention goals of social work, such as:

  • Build and structure a vision of the near future;
  • Make resources available to people and empower them to use them;
  • Helping people regain their energy so they can make decisions about what they need;
  • Enable predictability and strengthen structure in their daily lives;


First contact

Around 5 p.m., two women with three boys (16, 8 and 5 years old) entered the INFO POINT*): One of the women held one of the children by the hand and almost pulled it with her. The child struggled and screamed.

After the check at the border crossing, colleagues from the ISU (military firefighters for disaster relief) helped them with their luggage and brought them to our tent. They informed us that they had to wait for a vehicle that would transport them to Germany.

As the whole family sat down at the table, we asked if they were hungry or wanted water. They replied that they didn’t need anything. It was obvious they were exhausted so we gave them space to get comfortable.

As a social worker, I represented my organization ASproAS**) and in this case worked with a colleague from the NGO “FARA” at the Info Point.




First challenge:

The 8-year-old boy ran through the Info Point, grabbed everything he could find and threw it on the ground. He picked up the water bottles and threw them on the ground again, mesmerized by them. There were other people at the Info Point, but nobody was injured by the child.


The mother tried to stop him and was obviously under massive stress. Despite her efforts, he continued.

The child’s mother apologized to me for the child’s behavior. I assured her that was no problem. The kid needs a playground so I told her I got it and we don’t mind his games. I explained to her that we are there to help her.

My colleague and I started playing with the kid and even gave him extra water bottles. Another colleague brought special games for children with attention problems from her organization tent.

While my colleague was playing with the child, I used the time to talk to the mother using signs and a few words that she understood in English.

We soon learned that the two younger children had autism. However, the five-year-old was interested in video games and we were able to offer him a place to play.


An unwanted journey with two autistic children is an enormous challenge. What else worried the mother so much that she could not accept the offered space for rest? Was she afraid of not being woken up when the driver of the car arrived?



Second challenge:

The family was to be picked up by a brother-in-law who was traveling from Italy. Since he was already several hours late, I began to doubt that he would come, as such agreements had already fallen through several times. So, I tried to clarify that.

We tried to contact the driver by phone to make sure he came. After several attempts, contact was successful and it turned out that he had chosen the wrong route and that it would be several hours before he arrived.

My colleague asked him to send us a photo of the car and the registration number. We were able to agree with the police that he could drive through to the entrance of the Info Point. Then all we could do was wait.

What can we do if the driver doesn’t come? Can we offer a suitable place to sleep where the mother, her children and accompanying sister can rest? The transit center facilities were not in the border crossing area and intermediate transport would be required. What if the car for the onward journey arrives in the meantime?



Answering the needs

  • Building and maintaining trusting, honest and empathetic relationships


Maintaining and fostering trust in our relationship with people from Ukraine is a daily focus and challenge. There is only a very short time to build this relationship. The relationship develops as we help them find acceptable solutions and support them in implementing them. We convey a clear message of respect, caring and listening to their needs.

We therefore informed the two women about the available help options (food, resting place), but respected their decision when they initially declined. They were not left alone; we stayed with them and helped them to calm down and rest; We kept their children busy with activities so that the mother and her sister could recover.


  • Acknowledging and dealing with emotions, fatigue and the need for care when coming out of an uncertain and stressful situation.


After crossing the border, people are looking for orientation and the next steps. It is important to hear and address their concerns and insecurities.

For this mother and her sister, rest was absolutely necessary. Traveling with two autistic children takes a lot of energy. We have therefore created a resting place for them in a container intended for children and mothers. Around 7:00 p.m., the mother and the two younger children went to bed. At 10:30 p.m., the sister and the third child came along.


  • Prioritizing support for their needs

Each of them has a different priority when crossing the border. Therefore, it is our responsibility to learn and understand their priorities and then offer them help. The two women primarily took care of their children. It was our responsibility to make sure they had everything they needed. We gave them time to relax by running some activities with children, building confidence and providing food and shelter of their choice.


  • Prediction and analysis of possible risks and development of strategies for protective measures

We advised them to sleep and assured them that we will let them know when the driver arrives.

Since we had the name, phone number and number of the car, we assumed the driver would arrive at a later time.

I discussed with the Commander of ISU the preparation of a sleeping place for the driver. It would have been irresponsible to start the return journey immediately with two exhausted autistic children.

When the driver arrived at around 2 a.m., he gratefully accepted the offer to sleep.

In the morning I was in contact again with all those affected. The mother confirmed that she was fine and they began the journey to Germany. I later received a message from the mother that they had arrived safely.



The Info Point is a tent next to the border crossing, set up by ASproAS together with ISU and NGOs to provide social services for refugees and to coordinate (and provide space for) the different activities of NGOs (charity organizations)



ASproAS – Asociația Asistenților Sociali din România – is the association for social workers in Romania; www.asproas.ro



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