“It helps us a lot when experts visit us”
Outreach team provides support to families in their homes and enables easier access to basic services
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Outreach team’s visits to settlements cannot go unnoticed. As soon as they arrive at one of six Roma settlements in Medjimurje County, where UNICEF carries out the EU Child Guarantee pilot programme, funded by the European Union, together with its implementing partners, the children run to greet them and tell them everything that’s happened since their last visit. Generally, they make a schedule of the families they plan to visit, but people often stop them and invite them into their homes to ask for advice or arrange a doctor’s appointment. Of course, they don’t turn those requests down
We spent a day with the outreach expert team by Médecins du Monde, UNICEF’s implementing partner in the Roma settlement of Piškorovec, and saw how it provides direct support and help to children and their parents.
Mother of five Slađana confirms this. The doctor examined her youngest child and arranged for prescriptions for the necessary medications.
“It helps me a lot when the doctor comes. She’s great. I’m thankful to her. Whenever we need help, she’s here. Today she gave me medication for my children, and earlier she showed us how I should practice certain things they need with them. This helps not only me, but the children as well. It’s great,” said Slađana Lajtman, who has also received a lot of help from the other outreach team members. They gave her other important advice, set appointments for her children to see medical specialists in Zagreb, and sometimes played with her children.
Many people are not able to arrange transportation to go to the doctor, so it means a lot to them when a doctor comes and visits their home. Kevin, a father of three, Monika, Sara and Patricio, still doesn’t have a driver’s license, so his biggest problem is going to see medical specialists in Čakovec
“It’s good when doctors come here, so I don’t have to go to Čakovec. Luckily, my brother has a driver’s license, but he can’t always drive when we need to go to appointments. It’s much easier when they visit us and explain everything to us in detail. They take care of my Sara, and I’m very proud of it. They help us out a lot. I’m grateful to them”, said Kevin Kalanjaš..
The outreach team is composed of early intervention expert, a paediatrician, a gynaecologist, a psychologist, a sociologist, Roma cultural mediators and assistants. The team provides support to families in their own homes, which makes the services more accessible and is focused on the early recognition of the needs of children and their families living in precarious situations.
Paediatrician Marija Jungvirth, MD, MSc is a member of the team.
“The goal of our team is to visit the homes of Roma families to see the environment in which the children are growing up and take note of all the risk factors for their development, to recognise the causes of problems, and to help them make use of healthcare protection and the social rights of children. So, this is a comprehensive approach to children in the environment in which they live”, said Prim. Jungvirth.
Nurse Paula Kanižaj adds that she and other outreach team members visit six settlements to improve the living conditions of children and their parents there. Most of all, they provide informative and preventative healthcare advice to the users of their services.
“Our coordinator makes a general work plan based on their needs, but seeing as we often visit the settlements, we determine where we’ll go ourselves because the people we meet ask us to visit them. We consider the priorities of the people and go there”, said Kanižaj. After a few months of outreach work, she can see progress in most of the people who take heed of their advice.
“Working with children with disabilities is also a lot better because the parents follow our advice more and we can help them”, said Paula Kanižaj.
Early childhood intervention expert Marijana Konkoli Zdešić is a kind of mentor for early intervention to the rest of the team and cooperates with all members.
"Early childhood intervention is important, especially through this project, it is important to detect possible risks, problems and to direct children in a timely manner to programs that can provide them with support. It is important to get closer to the family and be at the centre of the family itself. Because the context of a child’s development is their family. That doesn’t lie in institutions, but in their own homes where they have daily activities."
"As for visiting the settlement, it is a really new experience for me, I appreciate the experiences of colleagues who have been here for a long time and have told me, to what I must pay attention to. What I notice is that I am always welcome and that families are extremely interested and grateful when we come and show them, so I only have positive experiences”, she concludes.
Psychologist Ante Župić adds that he is in charge of providing psychological help during outreach visits and is focused on providing support to parents and developing their parental skills. The team also offers various forms of intervention – from crisis interventions to providing support to families who need it because of the pandemic.
“Some of the problems we encounter here definitely include barriers in approaching the healthcare system and other services within the system, so we’re trying to be a connecting point between users who need services and the system. People are not always sure who they should ask for help, which institutions and persons are competent to help them, so we’re trying to inform them of this”, said Ante Župić, adding that the language barrier, as well as different family dynamics where individual conversations are rare, sometimes pose a problem for him.
Therefore, the outreach team also includes Roma cultural mediators, Patricija Bogdan and Nikolina Balog, who help in eliminating language and other barriers, which is why it is often easier for families to confide in them first. Sociologist, Vida Zadravec and team assistant Marijana Sabo are also team members.
“When we see that our actions help directly, that is very rewarding. Resolving some issues requires the help of a wider system, so we’re working on that, as well as on introducing or changing some mechanisms in the long term because that has been long overdue here. There are changes – in the children, their parents, and in entire families, so this is important to us”, concluded Ante Župić.
The pilot program „Phase III: Testing the Child Guarantee,” funded by the European Union, is implemented in 7 EU countries, with the aim of ensuring that all children have access to basic services, such as healthcare, education, nutritious food, quality housing and childcare.
In Croatia, this pilot program is aimed primarily at children with disabilities, children in precarious family situations, and children of racial or national minorities. It is implemented in seven municipalities of Medjimurje County, and through the cooperation and knowledge of implementing partners, interventions are carried out in three areas: integrated child protection and family support services, early childhood intervention services, and access to quality pre-primary education.
© UNICEF, 2022 “The information and views set out in this document 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.
The international humanitarian non-governmental organization Médecins du Monde (Doctors of the World) is an implementing partner of the UNICEF Croatia for the implementation of the pilot program “Phase III: Testing the Child Guarantee in Croatia,” funded by the European Union.