Mr Palm's speech during the coordination meeting in Vlora with Child Rights Units (CRUs) and Child Protection Units (CPUs) on 3 February 2012
This is a very timely meeting. I want to congratulate the National Agency for the protection of the rights of children for bringing together important players related to the wellbeing and rights of children. The creation of the agency itself is a result of the adoption of the law on the protection of children's rights; a law that was adopted in parliament with the consensus across the entire political spectrum.
It is easy to get the sympathy of people when it concerns children. But working for the rights of children is not easy; it is not "child's play" as we used to say. One of the reasons is that children have no voice in political decision-making. The National Agency for children can change this, and I want to assure that UNICEF will continue to provide support to building the needed capacity and programmes.
This meeting brings together also professionals from the Child Rights Units, and the Child Protection Units. Both structures are also implied in the law on children’s rights. When I first arrived in Albania, it took me some time to understand the difference. Now I think I know, and why both structures are so much needed, and how they complement each other.
Child Rights Units are part of the regional councils, and they are essentially statistical units. They collect data in relation to the rights of children, such as their health, access to education, pre-schools, whether they participate in all those activities even if their parents live in poverty, whether they grow up well-nourished and without violence. Much of these data are in fact collected by the directorates or departments of other sectors: schools, regional education directorate, health professionals, state social services and so on.
So, if the child rights units are not providing fresh data, why do we need them? There are two main reasons.
Firstly, children are not a sector (such as health, education, agriculture, police and so on), but they need all the other sectors to work in coordination. Children's rights are indivisible. We cannot be satisfied if children are healthy, but don't go to school. We are not satisfied if all young children go to school, but only if they go to boarding school and become separated from their parents - because to live with their parents is also a right. Therefore, the Child Rights Units shall provide us periodically with an overview of the status of children. They analyze statistical information through the lens of children's rights. They add meaning to sometimes dry statistics, or data that is otherwise difficult to understand. And they provide this analysis to the regional councils - and periodically to the national level - so that better decisions can be made for all children.
There is a second reason for the existence of Child Rights Units. It is usually the same child that experience violence, who doesn't go to school, who is malnourished, or who gets abused. Disadvantages accumulate among the same children. The staff of the child rights units can help identify those groups of children who are at greatest risk; they can help identifying the most difficult places and neighborhoods. By identifying these pockets of disadvantage, they again can advise the regional councils and ministries where to invest resources, and how these neighborhoods can be helped in an integrated manner. So that all children have an equal opportunity to reach their full potential.
To fulfill these functions, staff of the Child Rights Units need to be able to work with statistics, make cross-tabulations, and analyze data for patterns or irregularities. They fulfill a monitoring and planning function.
In contrast, we have the Child Protection Units, usually at the municipal or commune level. Their function is different. They provide a service to disadvantaged children or those at risk. Their main task is to identify the most serious child protection cases, and directly help the children and their families to resolve immediate problems. Of course they work with health professionals, teachers, headmasters and police officers. But their role is to solve problems of individual children and families. They are not statisticians, but social workers and case managers. They are social service professionals who can get a child back into school, get a child out of an abusive situation, protect the child from violence, and participate in decisions about the placement of children.
I know that the work of both the information analyst in the Child Rights Unit and the social worker in the child protection unit is difficult. It can be really hard and I want to acknowledge all the frontline workers for the work they do. Your efforts are important to the Ministry, and UNICEF. Most importantly, it is important for the children, especially those with a disadvantaged background.