Access to early childhood interventions ensures Dorotea’s development
Mobile outreach teams visit Roma settlements to support the developmental potential of the most vulnerable children
Zvjezdana and Marko Oršuš knew that their youngest daughter, Dorotea, soon to be two-years-old had some developmental disabilities, but they were not aware of the full extent of the risks nor did they know who to contact to make sure their daughter could receive adequate healthcare and continue to develop properly. Over the last six months, a multidisciplinary team of experts gathered as part of the pilot programme Phase III: “Testing the Child Guarantee in Croatia” helped them with this.
Paediatrician Prim. Marija Jungvirth, MD, MSc met the family during her regular outreach visit to the Roma settlement of Kuršanec in Čakovec together with the Médecins du Monde outreach expert team. The team is composed of early intervention professionals, a psychologist, a gynaecologist, a paediatrician and Roma cultural mediators, who work to help those in need overcome language barriers and reach more families.
“I met Zvjezdana’s family during my visit to the settlement. Of course, we immediately asked what kind of support Dorotea was being given, what was being done and what needed to be done, and how we could help both the family and the child,” said paediatrician Prim. Marija Jungvirth, MD, MSc, adding that experts have been working with the family for the last six months.
“Experts have worked with the family for the entire last half of the year. Dorotea has undergone diagnostic testing at the Children’s Hospital Zagreb. The MURID association, located in Medjimurje County, provides all the developmental stimulation needed,” she said, pointing out the fact that there has been noticeable progress.
“There is definitely noticeable progress. Although both the mother and the father are deafblind, the family is willing to work with us and cooperate, which is very important. A child’s environment is very important for their growth and development and future success in life.”
Her mother, Zvjezdana, is pleased that Dorotea plays with her grandmother, who is an important source of support for the entire family. Dorotea’s brother Dominik enjoys playing football, and his sister Ana-Marija often joins him in playing outside their house.
Marko, her father, adds that he can see progress in Dorotea, who especially likes chocolate, tea and watching cartoons. “She likes to play and listen to the ‘Mummy Loves Baby’ lullaby. Our older children go to kindergarten and school, and we hope Dorotea will also go to kindergarten.”
Since early intervention is the best start and an invaluable investment into the life of children with developmental risks, experts will continue to provide support to Dorotea and Zvjezdana.
“We look at Dorotea through a multidisciplinary approach, from all aspects, because children are not simple and we are searching for the best approach to help her. The biggest value of this programme is the ability to identify disabilities in children from the earliest possible age because early intervention provides the best results in all areas,” said Jungvirth.
Cooperation between service providers provides the best results, which is why support to Dorotea and her family take place through the Medjimurje Association for Early Childhood Intervention – MURID, which carries out activities within the Point of Access to Early Childhood Intervention. Lucija Džepina, an early childhood intervention specialist from MURID, explained that an individualised family support plan was created, including goals for the family as a whole and for Dorotea individually.
“These goals were defined for specific areas, from gross motor skills to fine motor skills and cognitive skills, communication, etc. We also provide support to Dorotea’s mum so that she can help Dorotea properly and so they can practise together. Since we started working with Zvjezdana and Dorotea, there has been noticeable progress, especially in Zvjezdana’s approach. She now has someone who understands her, someone to talk to, and both of them are really happy to have these visits,” said Lucija Džepina, who also helps Dorotea’s parents with translation into sign language, given that they are both deafblind.
This is especially helpful to these young parents, who have had problems, as they shared, when communicating with doctors and experts.
“The doctor used to talk too quickly, and I couldn’t understand her. I would tell her that I didn’t understand her when she speaks too quickly, and that she should speak more slowly,” said Zvjezdana with the help of Lucija, who helps her with translation into sign language. Zvjezdana’s husband Marko said that their biggest problem now is to find transportation to Dorotea’s weekly physical therapy sessions in Varaždin, but that they somehow manage.
This is why the multidisciplinary team who visits them in their settlement means so much to them.
“We find it very helpful when doctors come to see Dorotea, practice with her, assist us with translation and everything else,” said Zvjezdana.
“Zvjezdana comes to us, but we also visit her because she knows she will receive all the help she needs, both for her children and for herself,” said Marijana Sabo, a Médecins du Monde outreach team assistant, who also emphasised the important role the team has in identifying children with disabilities in Medjimurje and in providing early childhood intervention services.
“The institutions are not yet open or sensitised enough, so most families from the settlement can’t get what they need without our support. As Doctors of the World, we have this large team with us, people from the settlement recognise us, trust us, let us into their homes, and reach out for our help on their own.”
Access to early childhood intervention is one of the goals of the pilot programme Phase III: “Testing the Child Guarantee in Croatia,” funded by the European Union and carried out in Medjimurje County by UNICEF Croatia together with its implementation partners such as Médecins du Monde and MURID.
“The primary objective of this project is early intervention and identifying children aged 0-3 years, 3-7 years who have certain difficulties. A large number of children need help. It is a very positive thing that parents and entire families are ready to work with us,” said Marijana Sabo.
“We expect the programme will continue in the future, helping even more people, especially families facing obstacles such as Zvjezdana’s. I think this programme is excellent because we see great changes as a result and we are increasing public awareness about the work done with national minorities,” said Lucija Džepina.
“The ‘EU Child Guarantee’ programme that we are carrying out in Medjimurje shows the non-Roma population that Roma people do want to improve their situation, that they wantthe best for their children, and that they are ready to cooperate, which I see as the biggest benefit for all of us, not just in Medjimurje, but across the rest of Croatia too,” said Marijana Sabo.
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, 2022 “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.”
MdM and MURID are implementing partners of UNICEF Croatia for the pilot programme “Phase III: Testing the Child Guarantee in Croatia”, funded by the European Union.