Successful implementation of activities in Međimurje as a proof that EU Child Guarantee works

After 33 months of implementation of the pilot program “Phase III: Testing the Child Guarantee in Croatia”, funded by the European Union in Međimurje County, the access to comprehensive child and family protection services, including the empowerment of parents and guardians, early childhood intervention services have been improved, and children who do not have access to kindergarten were given opportunities to learn through play. These are the conclusions made at the final conference dedicated to the successful implementation of activities within the EU Child Guarantee, which was implemented by UNICEF, in cooperation with 12 implementing partners in the field, 7 local government units, Međimurje County and the Government of the Republic of Croatia.

To improve living conditions and ensure better starting positions for every child at risk of poverty and social exclusion, high-quality intersectoral cooperation between different systems is necessary, as well as bringing services closer to users and adapting them to their specific needs. With this goal in mind, representatives of the Roma community were actively involved in the implementation, along with experts, and to make services more accessible, 4 Centers for Children and Families were built and altogether 5 were established in the municipalities of Mala Subotica, Nedelišće, Podturen, Orehovica and Pribislavec. The Centers will provide practical and everyday support to children, adolescents, and their families through integrated services of early intervention, parenting support, psychosocial support, and opportunities for learning through play.

To maintain a long-term effect on equal opportunities for every child, the sustainability of activities and their possibility of replication in other environments were successfully tested, and the National Action Plan, which will deal with the challenges of child poverty and social exclusion, is in the process of being adopted by the Government of the Republic of Croatia.

“We are glad that Croatia is one of the countries in which the pilot program ‘Phase III: Testing the Child Guarantee‘ funded by the European Commission is implemented. The goal of the project, which we are implementing with our partners from UNICEF, is to provide access to integrated multidisciplinary, adequately funded services in the community, taking into account that the EU priority is the development of services for children and additional support mechanisms aimed at children at risk of poverty and social exclusion. The program made a significant contribution to building an inclusive and resilient society, as well as breaking the cycle of poverty and social inequality. Recommendations from this pilot program, as well as from other participating EU countries, will be implemented in all national documents of the member states, respecting their specificities”, said Tatjana Katkić Stanić, Director, Institute for Social Work, Ministry of Labour, Pension System, Family and Social Policy and National Coordinator of the EU Child Guarantee.

“When we started implementing this program two years ago, we were confident that we would achieve results, but we did not expect so many positive changes. We are grateful to the European Commission and our partners who showed great enthusiasm and worked for a common goal – ensuring equal opportunities for every child, regardless of who they are and where they live. Projects like this give us strength and hope for a better future. We believe that the experiences from Međimurje will be recognized at the national and European level as an example of quality intersectoral cooperation that has ensured successful results for the well-being of children and their families. The challenge before us is the sustainability of the results and the expansion of activities, but we believe that the National Action Plan will create a good foundation for the expansion of services for the most vulnerable children in Međimurje County, and throughout Croatia”, said Regina M. Castillo, Representative of the UNICEF Office for Croatia.

“When you are faced with problems and challenges caused by the specificity of a community, a corner of the world, it is crucial that you listen to those who live in that corner of the world, that is, people who deal with specific challenges every day. On behalf of Međimurje County, I thank UNICEF for a great partnership, for recognizing the true needs of the local community, and for recognizing the facts that we have been warning about for years – the importance of working with children and the importance of providing equal opportunities to children who grow up in deprivation, who are being raised differently from the earliest childhood”, said the Governor of Međimurje County, Matija Posavec, and emphasized that about 2,000 children and 2,500 parents, numerous assistants, teachers, professors, and students participated in the program. “The program has already produced results, and with the establishment of Centers for children and families and newly formed institutions, it is all leaving a solid foundation for the further development of a model of strengthening people in the community, especially children. The results of this project also show that Međimurje County is an example of a socially sensitive environment in which investment in children's early education is recognized as the foundation of the future”, concluded the County Governor.