The aid was in place. Not always perfect, though.

NIK about support for families experiencing difficulties in the COVID-19 pandemic

Families in crisis received essential assistance in the pandemic, although usually by means of ad hoc interventions. According to NIK that form of activity was justified by the extraordinary situation but the availability of support was limited and its forms were not always tailored to existing needs. Uneven scope of support was alarming. Another problem – still unsolved – was related to insufficient development of social infrastructure. That was why none of the audited districts ran or commissioned running a home for mothers. The efforts of social welfare homes helped improve availability of support for elderly persons. In the pandemic the activity of day-care centres and senior clubs was suspended but a lot of new facilities of this type were set up in the following years: in 2019 r. it was 9, an in the first half of 2022 that was already 14.

In 2019-2021, nearly three million families in Poland struggling with various types of difficulties benefited from social assistance. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of families seeking help was falling gradually, which was largely influenced by restrictions on movement and the changed form of contact from face-to-face to remote.

The NIK audit results also show that during the pandemic, the number of people using the services provided by the audited institutions decreased year by year. In 2019-2022 (first half), nearly 123 thousand individuals and families were provided with various forms of support in the audited 12 social welfare centres (OPS) and six district family support centres (PCPR). The most common reasons for seeking help were: long-term or serious illness, unemployment and poverty,  helplessness in care and education issues and running a household, as well as disability and mental illnesses. In many cases, the difficulties were related to addictions, including alcoholism and drug addiction.

The effective pandemic-related regulations forced support institutions to take a range of efforts to ensure business continuity and the safety of employees and persons using aid.

Governors periodically suspended business operations of many entities, including, among others, day care centres, day care homes and senior clubs, and community self-help homes. In case of 24-hour shelters in some crisis intervention centres (CIPs), they were repurposed or closed. NIK points out that providing support in changed forms by some entities reduced the availability of services rendered so far by individual entities.

NIK auditors conducted a large-scale survey on providing support and assistance to individuals and families during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most respondents indicated that key difficulties in this field were chiefly related to restrictions on movement and direct contacts. Poor conditions for implementing these tasks as well as procedures and regulations not adjusted to the pandemic conditions were also a problem. Some of the surveyed entities struggled with the shortage of specialists, and insufficient financial resources to provide employees with essential equipment (including personal protective equipment).

NIK emphasises that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, social welfare facilities were burdened with additional tasks. All OPSes helped persons in quarantine or isolation by providing them with medicines and groceries.

In the opinion of NIK auditors, individuals and families experiencing difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic received necessary support. Both OPSes and PCPRs identified the needs of local communities and then changed the form and manner of providing support depending on identified needs.

The most common form of assistance in OPS was specialist counselling, mainly psychological, but also legal and social counselling. Other popular forms included social work, shelters in crisis intervention centres, sheltered housing, day care homes and senior clubs. Support was also provided as part of government programmes, in the form of services addressed to particular groups of people in need: e.g. seniors, persons with disabilities, carers of dependent persons. In addition, assistance in PCPRs was rendered as part of the project "Support for children placed in foster care during the COVID-19 pandemic".

Crisis intervention measures were addressed to a total of 4 thousand individuals and families in crisis. Assistance was provided in over 4.2 thousand cases – mainly related to domestic violence. Immediate action was taken and the scope of assistance was tailored to the given crisis situation. The examined documentation showed that the efforts taken allowed the persons in crisis to regain psychological balance or acquire coping skills, but their situation after the intervention was not always monitored. An analysis of OPS employees' compliance with the Blue Card procedure did not reveal any irregularities. In order to meet the needs of specific groups of individuals and families in crisis, e.g. people experiencing domestic violence or those affected by addiction, special points were set up where these people could receive professional support.

Another form of assistance provided during the pandemic by the entities audited by NIK was the provision of supplementary meals for children and youth as part of the government programme "Meal at school and at home". However, the closure of school canteens reduced the availability of school meals in the audited period. At the request of parents or legal guardians, the benefit form was often changed from a meal to a food allowance. As part of the "Meal at school and at home" programme, a total of 573 thousand meals were provided to 12.6 thousand people, over 86% of whom were children and youth. The total programme spending was nearly PLN 11.6 million.

In the case of individuals and families experiencing difficulties in performing their care and education functions, the most popular form of support were family assistants. During the audited period, almost two thousand families used this type of assistance offered by social welfare centres (OPSes). In most cases the support given by family assistants was tailored to the needs of families and helped improve their situation. On the other hand, the least common form of aid were support families. Only five families in total used this type of assistance in the two entities.

An alarming phenomenon was the uneven scope of support provided by the auditees during the pandemic. The NIK survey revealed the shortage of psychologists and lawyers in OPSes and PCPRs. Psychological and legal counselling was also missing in the majority of audited entities. In two OPS and two PCPRs, the NIK audit revealed the deficit of other specialists: child psychiatrists, therapists, physiotherapists and staff working with patients in the field – social workers, nurses and caregivers. Low salaries were the reason.

Due to the pandemic restrictions in the audited OPSes, the number of people using in-person counselling went down. At the same time, an increased demand for remote counselling was reported. As a result, the number of psychological consultations went up by 33% in 2020 and by 56% in 2021 as compared with pre-pandemic levels. Almost 44 thousand individuals and families benefited from over 60 thousand psychological, legal, family and social counselling sessions.

NIK auditors also looked at how the auditees supported children experiencing difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the information provided by the headmasters of selected schools as well as psychological and pedagogical counselling centres, on the one hand, children and youth struggled with technical problems related to remote learning. On the other hand, a big challenge for young people was returning to school after a period of long-term isolation and the associated fear of establishing relationships with peers or the lack of acceptance from the class. Many children needed support of psychologists or school counsellors after returning to school. The number of children in need of psychiatric help also increased. This situation showed the importance of support for young people affected by the pandemic. The audit indicated that day-care centres, which provided care and education for children from dysfunctional families, the so-called day-care centres, operated only in six OPSes. Almost 0.7 thousand places were provided in these facilities and over 500 children were covered with care. The children staying in the day-care centre were offered educational support (e.g. help with homework). Also, preventive measures were taken, such as classes on the prevention of alcohol, drug and nicotine addictions. The analysed documentation showed that the support in the day-care centres was provided effectively. In the periods of restricted or suspended activity of day-care centres, some of them provided help was via instant messengers. NIK points out that this solution limited the comprehensive nature of assistance provided in day-care centres.

NIK positively evaluates the OPSes’ activities to increase the availability of day care homes and senior clubs – despite the fact that their activities were suspended during the pandemic. In 2019-2022 (first half), the number of these facilities increased from 9 to 14.

Round-the-clock shelters were available in four crisis intervention centres, and night shelters operated in two OPSes. In the audited period, more than 1.7 thousand persons used temporary shelters. Despite limited availability of places for 24-hour temporary stay for families in crisis, persons in need received help in all cases.

In half of the audited facilities, sick, elderly or disabled persons needing assistance in their daily life could receive support in the form of sheltered housing. About 400 individuals and families took advantage of 600 places in sheltered apartments. As a rule, the stay in sheltered apartments was paid, except for the persons whose income did not exceed the income criterion. According to NIK, the support provided in the form of sheltered housing was effective, but not always appropriate. For instance, incorrect fees for stays in sheltered apartments and support centres were set or persons using sheltered housing were exempted from fees without reason.

An important problem that remains unsolved is the insufficient development of social infrastructure by responsible bodies of municipalities and districts. The NIK audit showed that targeted social assistance was possible only thanks to the housing infrastructure and human resources provided by NGOs cooperating with the auditees. Above all, however, support provided by homes for mothers with minor children and pregnant women was insufficient. On the other hand, as far as the auditees are concerned, the PCPR did not issue decisions on referral to a home for mothers, because none of the districts whose tasks were carried out by these units ran or commissioned the operation of homes for mothers, despite the obligation. In addition, in one case the decision to refer a mother with a child to a mothers’ home was issued by an OPS employee, even though according to the law, such decisions should be made by the district head. In NIK's opinion, the applicable regulations made it difficult for social welfare centres to provide support to mothers with minor children and pregnant women.


To the Minister of Family and Social Policy

To consider amending the Ordinance of the Minister of Family and Social Policy of 17 January 2022 on homes for mothers with minor children and pregnant women in order to:

  • introduce an obligation to forward the district head’s administrative decision on referral to a home for mothers with minor children and pregnant women to the attention of the OPS head, who submitted to the district head the application of the person applying for a referral to the said institution,
  • enable district heads to issue an administrative decision on the referral of mothers with minor children and pregnant women (including those from the nearest district) to homes for mothers with whom they signed agreements on guaranteeing a certain number of places in that facility for residents of a given district, which are not orders to run a home for mothers, under the said Ordinance.

To municipality heads, mayors and presidents of cities and district boards

In case of executive bodies of municipalities and districts to:

  • make an ongoing analysis of needs and take action to ensure required availability and diverse forms of support for people and families experiencing difficulties,
  • ensure proper performance of tasks related to providing shelter and support to mothers with minor children and pregnant women in mothers’ homes,
  • take steps to make sure the resolutions of regulatory bodies on payment for stays in sheltered apartments and support centres comply with the provisions of the Social Assistance Act.


Article informations

Najwyższa Izba Kontroli
Date of creation:
22 April 2024 16:31
Date of publication:
22 April 2024 16:31
Published by:
Marta Połczyńska
Date of last change:
22 April 2024 16:31
Last modified by:
Marta Połczyńska
Photo collage: small paper figures of a family on a child's hands lying on two pairs of adult hands on the left and a computer image of the SARS-Cov-2 © Adobe Stock

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