© UNICEF Serbia

UNICEF works to ensure that every child in Serbia has a family, focusing on the children at greatest risk of growing up in care – those with disabilities and those from the very poorest families. Families need support to stay together. They need services that prioritize family solutions, from supportive maternity staff to skilled social workers, and from day-care centres to respite schemes.

Progress and challenges

There has been progress. The institutionalization of children under the age of three, for example, has been banned. And the ratio of children held in institutional and foster care has been reversed, with more children now being raised by foster parents.

However, the number of children living in care – those who are cared for by the State, rather than by their biological families – is actually growing as the economic crisis bites, and children with severe disabilities are still too often placed in institutions.

What we do

We aim to reduce the total number of children in care to an absolute minimum, with children only removed from families for their own protection. No child should lose their family because they are disabled or poor.

UNICEF aims to change the mindset on child care. We support comprehensive approaches to keep families together, alongside effective case management for each individual child. We work with Centres for Social Work (CSWs), providing vital standards, guidelines and support to develop capacities. And we provide evidence to ensure that the money ‘follows’ the child in the family, not the bed in an institution.

Serbia’s Social Welfare Law includes recommendations generated by our work in this area. We are the Government’s main partner in the development of social welfare by-laws and have worked with the EU to assess social inclusion in child care reform.

Now we are focusing on effective community services – essential to keep children with their own families.

© UNICEF Serbia/Kate Holt

Building the evidence

  • UNICEF works with the Department of Social Work, Belgrade University to find out more about children in care and how they came to be there, and analyse how well current services tackle social exclusion.
  • We work with the Republic Institute for Social Protection to improve data management and define effective social welfare indicators.

Strengthening systems

  • UNICEF helped to draw up the by-laws on fostering, including the fostering of children with disabilities, fostering of adults, and emergency fostering.
  • We work with Serbia’s Regional Fostering Centres, CSWs and the Republican and Provincial Institutes for Social Protection to define priority services for children.
  • We work with CSWs to build effective referral systems and individual case management to ensure that the children in greatest need have first call on resources.
  • We help more than 40 municipalities that are developing community services to enhance social inclusion.
  • We have developed standards for day care centres, home assistance and respite care for the families of children with disabilities.
  • We are developing the community service standards and regulatory mechanisms that are needed to licence local service providers.

Creating social accountability

  • UNICEF works with the NGOs to encourage local ‘mapping’ of the most vulnerable children.
  • We reinforce the accountability of social services by setting out minimum standards, so that families paying for services from disability allowances know what they should be receiving for their money, building a sense of ownership.

Working in partnership

  • As well as working with government ministries at national level, we work with municipalities, academia, CSWs, statisticians and think tanks.






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