History of the Diaconia of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren

The "Diaconia of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren (ECCB)" was established on 1 June 1989 as an organisation with the specific purpose of carrying out the diaconal service of the ECCB.

It carries on the activity of the former Czech Diaconia (full title "Czech Diaconia, Protestant Society for the Care of the Poor and the Sick"), which was established in 1903 and continued its activities until 1952. In that year the state authorities in our country closed down all independent societies, and no churches were allowed to operate public social services. However, a certain kind of social work continued to exist, at least within a number of ECCB congregations, in the form of what was known as "Christian service". In the second half of the 1980s an informal grouping of professionals in the field and also lay people took shape within the church, which began to discuss various possible forms of church social work (diaconal work). When the first cautious changes began to take place in the attitude of the state towards the churches at that time, a group of people thus already existed who were ready to create a new organisation and work in it.

In the course of the development of the "new" Diaconia, various milestones were reached connected with the growth of the organisation and its gradual orientation towards new fields of work. The first services that the Diaconia developed in the early 1990s included the SOS crisis centre in Prague, day centres for mentally handicapped children, and the first centres providing home care for the elderly and the handicapped. A real test of its managerial capacities was provided when Diaconia took over three state homes for the elderly (Krabčice in 1991, and Myslibořice and Sobotín in 1992). These homes had been taken over by the state in the 1950s and run for 40 years as state institutions. After they had been returned to Diaconia they formed the basis of its programme of residential services for the elderly. During the course of the 1990s Diaconia gradually expanded by setting up centres running social prevention programmes – low-threshold clubs for children and young people, half-way houses, and women's refuges. In 2003 the spectrum of services expanded to include hospices. One of the milestones in Diaconia's development was the separation of special schools from centres for handicapped children. This had to be carried out in 2006 in order to comply with the new law on education. At present Diaconia runs 33 centres and 8 special schools. It has nearly a thousand employees, and several hundred volunteers also help it to carry out its work.

A factor which has had a significant positive influence on the development of the organisation is the creation of its own training system. In addition to Diaconia's own vision of providing quality training for workers in the social work field, this aspect was given considerable support in its beginnings by financial assistance provided by the Diakonisches Werk der Evangelischen Kirchen in Deutschland (the diaconal service of the German Protestant churches). In 1991-1994 Diakonisches Werk arranged for grants to be paid by the German government to the Diaconia of the ECCB in order to develop its training system and for specific projects in Diaconia centres. Thanks to this initiative, Diaconia was able to achieve a significant improvement in the quality of the in-service training and continuing training of its staff. This training system has now become extended and developed to the point where it is also used by other NGOs and staff in state institutions. Courses have also been provided, for example, for the families of those suffering from Alzheimer's disease or for the parents of severely mentally handicapped children.

A further important milestone was the creation of a development plan for the period 2003-2006, with the emphasis on improving the quality of services. The central office set up a quality management section, whose task is to promote the introduction of the state quality standards for social services in Diaconia centres. Under the Czech Social Services Act, maintaining these quality standards will be a basic condition for incorporating services into the social care system, which is very important in order to obtain funding for operational costs.

Organisational and administrative matters are governed by the Regulations for Diaconal Work and other internal regulations, the statutes and organisational rules of the individual centres and of the Diaconia of the ECCB as a whole. An amendment to the Regulations for Diaconal Work in 2006 has changed some powers and terms of reference. For example, the old boards of trustees of the Diaconia centres have been transformed into supervisory boards, and new professional boards of management have been set up, consisting of staff from the centre or the Diaconia central office. Cooperation between the centres and local church congregations will continue to be an important feature and will be developed further, even though the responsibility for running the centres will now be passed onto the professional boards of management. Diaconia has its foundation, its spiritual support and assistance of all kinds in the church. And from the viewpoint of the church Diaconia is the practical embodiment of the mission of the church and its life of faith.

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