“In the workshops, we spend quality time with children and watch how they learn and develop!”
The EU Child Guarantee aims to make every child and every parent feel included, no matter who they are or where they live
As part of our visit to Medjimurje County, where the UNICEF Office for Croatia, in cooperation with implementing partners, carries out the pilot-program "Phase III: Testing the Child Guarantee in Croatia ", funded by the European Union, we were at the workshop Growing Up Together Count Us In Plus, organised by the Growing Up Together Centre. The workshop was led by employees of the Family Center Branch, Čakovec Social Welfare Center, one of the implementing partners of the pilot-program.
In the workshop, we were welcomed by happy faces of parents, girls and boys, educators of the Centre and Growing up Together activists (RAZA). Growing up Together activists are Roma cultural mediators and are involved in the program for the first time in order to adjust the program to Roma parents more. Growing Up Together Count Us In Plus was developed earlier, aimed to parents who raise their children in precarious conditions, and now has been additionally adjusted for Roma families. Growing up Together activists are also a great help to parents and children with whom they communicate in the Romani language. Also, the families know them so it is easier to trust them.
Growing Up Together Count Us In! PLUS!, is a series of workshops, intended to support parenting. By visiting only one workshop it is clear to us that the participants are highly motivated. They are all connected by a common desire to further develop their parenting skills and be strengthened in the parenting role. The workshops are a network of spreading knowledge and positive experiences, both from experts to activists and beneficiaries, and to their family members.
In the workshops, parents spend quality time with their children, and at the same time, they are learning by listening to guidelines. The program consists of 3 parts: a workshop for parents, a workshop for children - which take place at the same time, and workshops for joint play of parents with children.
All guidelines are illustrated by an example and then applied in the exercise. It is important to emphasize that parents learn both with each other and in interaction with their children. As an implementation partner of the pilot-program, the employees of the Family Center Branch, Čakovec Social Welfare Center, are focused on integrated child protection and family support services. Part of the workshop is reserved only for parents, and part is reserved for parents and children playtime. It is interesting that experts in education use comics that follow each workshop. Animated Film School from Čakovec, in cooperation with the Parenting Support Growing Up Together Centre and UNICEF, has developed comics that inform parents about the goals of the workshops, and use them as a reminder of the key messages of the workshops. Comics are intended for everyone who attends the workshops so they can easily apply learned lessons in their daily activities and in the lives of their children.
Among the participants of the program, we met a four-year-old boy Jakov and his two-year-old sister Rea. They come to the workshops with their mother Jelena. Jelena told us how Jakov bought a doll for his sister.
"He knew that Rea loves dolls, so he asked his dad to surprise her with a gift," recalls mother Jelena. Through the game, we could see how much he looks after his sister. He is especially careful when Rea is around. That is a great success for parents who put a lot of effort into child’s care and education.
"These workshops are a great continuation of the effort that my husband and I put in his education and development. Every day, we use games, picture books and children's shows to learn Croatian with Jakov ", continues mother Jelena, adding that they are looking forward to a place in kindergarten. Mother Jelena wants to create opportunities for her children, since she didn’t have one. So even though she is 9 months pregnant, she still actively participates in the workshop. Well done, Mom!
At the workshop, we meet another Jakov, a four-year-old who wins everyone with his smile and kindness. As we talked to his mother Zdenka, Jakov listened carefully.
"I noticed that the workshops have a great influence on Jakov's behavior. He learns Croatian in the workshops and at home. He treats others with respect and he can't wait to go to preschool ", says mother Zdenka. How nice it is for him at the workshops is shown by the fact that every time, after the workshop, he tells his mother about it – what they ate, what songs they sang etc. He dreams of becoming a famous football player.
Although she still doesn't go to kindergarten, a five-year-old Dora enjoys workshops so much that, every time, she dresses up especially for them. This time she put on a special earring she got from her dad. She always tells her siblings Domagoj, Dino and Bela what they did at the workshop. Mother Tanja told us that Dora and her younger sister Maša always look forward to spending time with other children. Tanja also shared with us that the workshops are very important to her because she has a place where she can spend quality time with her children and watch them learn and grow. She added that she has known other moms from before, but they especially connected through the workshops and created a real community.
Suzana Blagus, workshop leader for parents about Growing Up Together Count Us In! PLUS! explains how parents in the workshops share their parenting experiences and new useful parenting tools, but they also seek answers to many questions. The goal is to build a positive relationship and feel deeper connections between parents and children. Furthermore, the goal is to develop children's psychological resilience, to improve social skills of parents and children, to strengthen parental and general competencies of parents and support in finding their own solutions in everyday demanding situations.
"As the workshops go on, a stimulating and friendly environment is created, in which parents share their experiences with confidence, get to know themselves better as parents and learn about parenting skills. Over time, parents become more open and more relaxed in sharing their own experiences and problems they face on a daily basis. A great progress can be noticed in parent’s behavior towards their children (especially in joint activities)”, explained the leader Suzana Blagus.
Growing up Together activist Sanja Oršuš considers the workshops extremely important for the growth and development of children living in the Roma settlement of Orehovica. She sees a great progress in the use of the Croatian language among children. They haven’t had the opportunity to learn and practice it before.
"Workshops are a good preparation for school because children who attend them will have some prior knowledge and skills needed to start preschool," said RAZA Sanja. She said that parents are satisfied with the leaders and activities in the workshops.
"I see that the relationship between parents and children is improving. Two mothers told me that they learned in the workshops how important the daily routine is and how much it is easier for them now when they practise it in their family life”, points out Sanja. Workshops, where she assists, also strengthen Sanja in the role of a mother.
With the main aim of reducing child poverty and social exclusion for all children across the European Union, the European Commission, in partnership with UNICEF, is implementing a pilot-program "Phase III: Testing the Child Guarantee" in Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Germany, Italy, Lithuania and Spain.
Croatia was given the opportunity to pilot programme Testing of the EU Child Guarantee, in cooperation with the European Commission and UNICEF, to work on solving child poverty and social exclusion. To develop new service models and best practices for children and their families, UNICEF will use its experience, partnerships and capacities by modeling integrated multidisciplinary, adequately funded family and community services in Medjimurje County, a region with limited access to child protection and family support services. UNICEF's approach includes three components: access to integrated child protection and family support services, access to early childhood education and access to integrated and coordinated early childhood intervention services.
© UNICEF, 2021 “The information and views set out in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.”
Growing Up Together Centre and Family Center Branch, Čakovec Social Welfare Center are implementing partners of the UNICEF Office in Croatia for the implementation of the pilot programme “Phase III: Testing the Child Guarantee in Croatia”, funded by the European Union.