"The fact that I don't know how to communicate with Lucija caused me great stress"
Interdisciplinary access to services is at heart of EU Child Guarantee
"When I grow up, I would like to be a cook, I like to prepare lunch and bake fruit cakes," tells us 13-year-old Lucija Vrbanec, who loves football and motorcycles, but for now, she admits with a smile, she adores her bike. Lucia was diagnosed with bilateral deafness thanks to a screening in the maternity ward.
Children like Lucija are at the heart of the pilot program EU Guarantee for Every Child, which is implemented by the UNICEF Office for Croatia in Međimurje County, in cooperation with 11 implementing partners, and funded by the European Union.
Lucija's mother Martina Vrbanec remembers how they started with early intervention and rehabilitation, when Lucija was only 2 months old.
"It was terrible for us when we first realized that Lucija can't hear, every mother hopes to give birth to a healthy child. It took us a long time to accept that we had a child with disabilities, to learn to deal with it, and to adapt to those challenges.
"That was the most stressful for me, the fact that as a mother I didn't know how to approach my child, how to communicate with her ", recalls Martina's mother.
When she was only 8 months old, Lucija got hearing aids and the adjustment took a long time because Lucija persistently took them off while playing, and thanks to her mother's persistence, she also got an artificial cochlea, which she is now has for11 years.
"When Lucija got the artificial cochlea, speech development was very slow. At the age of three and a half, Lucija did not know a single word, listening was also very challenging for her. This was a turning point for us to decide to start learning sign language. We looked for the support of various institutions, and I myself began to learn sign language more intensively, I got a job in the Association of the Deaf in Čakovec, where I worked as an interpreter and translator."
"This period of my life greatly enriched me because I got to know the richness of sign language and the culture of the deaf and got to know my child better, it was much clearer to me why she reacts much differently in different situations than people who can hear ", says mother Martina.
Martina has been working for three years at MURID, the Međimurje Association for Early Childhood Intervention, which is one of the implementing partners of the UNICEF Office for Croatia in the implementation of the Phase III: EU-funded Guarantee for Every Child in Croatia pilot program. .
"I started as an assistant at the day care center; it is an intensive educational and rehabilitation work involving children with communication disabilities and disabilities from the spectrum of autism, it is a group of up to five children. I have to admit that it was the first time I met children from the autism spectrum, it was very challenging, but after a few months I became the leader of my group ", Martina is satisfied.
She particularly emphasizes the need for an interdisciplinary approach in children with disabilities.
"Although there is expert help for parents of children with disabilities, still a lot depends on parents. We had to make our own research to find out basic information, which institutions to contact. There we got important information and advice. But before that, you have to find out for yourself that you need exactly that institution. We still do not have this interdisciplinary approach, and not only that, we received one service in one institution, we had to look for another institution for another, and these institutions do not support each other's way of working and methods, so it was up to us parents decision on how to proceed. For example, one institution claimed that sign language would slow down the development of speech and listening, and another told us that we need it, and we as parents understood we have to learn it because we didn't know how to communicate with Lucija. That was stressful."
"That is why I say that a lot is up to the parents and that we need better cooperation between different systems and institutions ", concludes Martina's 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.”
MURID is implementing partner 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.