Children with disabilities
Early intervention is not equally available for the girls and boys who need it
Children with developmental disabilities are first and foremost just children. It is estimated that approximately 4,000 children who are at risk of developmental disabilities are born in Croatia every year and, according to data for Croatia from the Croatian Health Insurance Fund (CHIF), there are 32,101 children with disabilities and major developmental difficulties. In addition to additional support, they need the same things as other children, which is provided through early childhood intervention. Unfortunately, in Croatia, the services of early intervention that can help them are not given in good time and are not equally available to all the girls and boys who need it. The availability of services depends on the part of the country in which the child is growing up, adequate numbers of experts, and the level of cooperation between experts with different profiles.
The draft of the National Framework for Screening and Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children aged 0-7 in the Republic of Croatia has still not been accepted by the Croatian Society for Preventive and Social Paediatrics. Croatia still does not have a national policy or a legal framework as a basis for providing early intervention services to children and their families. Further, although Croatia signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, thus assuming the obligation to ensure access to augmentative and alternative communication devices for children with communication disabilities, they are still not on the list of medical products ensured by the CHIF. The high costs of such devices restrict the availability of assistive technology for children with complex communication disabilities, such as those with autism.
As a result of the advocacy of UNICEF, the Office of the Ombudsperson for Persons with Disabilities, and the Office of the Ombudsperson for Children, the Ministry of Health assumed the leading role in late 2018 in the formation of an intersectoral Ministerial Committee for Early Intervention. Its goal is to develop national policies for early intervention and an action plan. At the moment, UNICEF is conducting an analysis of the situation in the field of early childhood intervention in Croatia. This analysis will be a reliable information base with guidelines for the formation of an integrated early intervention system and for support for such a system.
In order to improve the system of the early identification and diagnostics of children with autism spectrum disorders, UNICEF provides technical assistance to line ministries.
With a view to ensuring access to assistive technology for children with disabilities through modern technology, UNICEF and its partners launched the programme “Assistive Technology for Children with Disabilities” to the value of HRK 1.69 million. This programme included comprehensive training for experts who work with children and provided equipment for assistive technology for nine health institutions, including the Special Hospital for Chronic Diseases of Children in Gornja Bistra, 12 associations, and 11 educational institutions and social welfare institutions throughout Croatia.