EU Child Guarantee: Play Hubs with Toy Libraries for children and their families
Three Play Hubs provide non-formal preschool education for 450 children in Medjimurje County
Within the pilot-program Phase III: Testing the Child Guarantee in Croatia, funded by the European Union, and implemented by UNICEF in cooperation with 11 implementing partners, three Play Hubs with Toy Libraries are operating in Medjimurje County. Play Hubs in Kuršanec, Orehovica and Držimurec-Strelec are places of non-formal pre-school education for children and for learning through play. Children are primary users of these spaces, which also actively involve their parents, while at the same time engaging with and contributing to the entire local community.
“Play Hubs are important places for children aged three to six, especially those who are not enrolled in pre-school education, because in an informal environment near their homes, they socialize with their peers and parents and develop skills and knowledge which are necessary for them later, when starting formal education. The informal setting of the Play Hubs allows parents to discuss everyday situations and challenges they are facing more easily and ask for advice from experts and coordinators. This creates a real support network in the community“, explained Regina M. Castillo, UNICEF Croatia Representative.
Activities designed to promote inclusion are carried out by experts from the Open Academy Step by Step, UNICEF's implementing partner on the principle of promoting care for children in the community and making services more accessible to children and their families.
Play Hubs operate according to the 'Parents and Children Together' philosophy, which promotes opportunities for adults and children to have fun and learn together in an informal environment, while respecting diversity and the right to equality. Play Hubs encourage the development and learning of children who do not have access to formal services, as well as the integration of these services. All Play Hubs open their doors and work in collaboration with local communities. The specificity and quality of the Play Hub lies in the fact that various community representatives, gathered in the Local Action Team, are involved in decision-making and improving the quality of the Hub's work, which ensures that it is truly based on community needs.
Support and cooperation with the local community is extremely important in the implementation of the activities of the Play Hubs, but also in the sustainability of the program itself, which was recognized by Valentino Škvorc, Municipality Mayor of Mala Subotica, where the Center in Držimurec-Strelec is located.
"The role of the municipality was to find the space and decorate it, and after the completion of the UNICEF program, we will ensure the continuity of the program. I would like to thank UNICEF for its cooperation, Open Academy Step by Step, and most of all the Local Action Team and the local community for recognizing the importance of this project."
Ljerka Cividini, the Mayor of the City of Čakovec, believes that the Play Hub in Kuršanec, since it is important for every child, is also extremely important for the City of Čakovec, especially because of the support it provides to the integration of Roma children into the education system.
Roan Posavec, Čakovec Child Mayor, agrees with this, and delivers a strong and important message: "Children's participation is important because every child has the right to play!"
In Medjimurje County, 40 percent of children aged three to six are not included in preschool education. Children not attending kindergarten are regularly those that would benefit from kindergarten the most – children living in precarious family environment, children with disabilities, children of Roma national minority and children facing poverty and/or social exclusion.
According to available data, only 31% of Roma children aged 3-6 are enrolled in pre-primary education, whereas in all of Croatia 79% 3–6-year-olds attend pre-primary education. The European average of children 3-6 enrolled in pre-primary education is 93%. And that is why it is extremely important to reach the most vulnerable children through Play Hubs Hubs and enable them to realize their full potential.
The importance of intersectoral cooperation is emphasized by LAT coordinators Spomenka Švenda and Dijana Horvat, describing the integration of Roma families as a circle in which LAT plays the role of coordinator and organizer. Tomaš Goričanac Primary School Mala Subotica is also included in this important circle of cooperation and support. Željka Štampar Zamuda highlighted the learning of the Croatian language as the first and most important step in the comprehensive integration process.
“We simply must provide every child an opportunity so that he can fulfil his desires, dreams, plans, goals…” said UNICEF Ambassador Slaven Bilić during his visit to Piškorovec, where he met children and families and also met the outreach team gathered as part of the pilot-programme EU Child Guarantee.
"The EU Child Guarantee is an opportunity to take further action to ensure that every child at risk of poverty and social exclusion has access to free health care, free education, free early childhood education, decent housing and adequate nutrition, regardless of which part of Croatia they live in.", said Margareta Madjeric, State Secretary at the Ministry of Labour, Pension System, Family and Social Policy.
The same opinion is shared by Vesna Šerepac, director of the Directorate for Education at the Ministry of Science and Education, who expressed her satisfaction with the processes and activities she saw in Drzimurec-Strelec, such as the Toy Library where children and families can borrow toys for free.
"Every investment in early and preschool education has a long-term effect on the individual lives of our children and their capacity to actively contribute to society in the future as adults, as citizens. International research on literacy and in mathematics and science shows that students who attend preschool for extended periods of time, at least three or more years, perform better on average than their peers who have attended for only a year or less. Also, there is a positive impact of early education on average results, with higher achievements in mathematics and science achieved by those students who attended programs of early and preschool education“, said Tomislav Paljak, State Secretary of the Ministry of Science and Education.
Activities in all three Play Hubs and Toy Libraries include more than 450 children and employ and additional 3 education experts and 3 Roma assistants who are also a part of the team.
Monika Horvat, coordinator of the ECEC Play Hub and Toy Library in Orehovica and a preschool teacher, likes to talk about why she enjoys working with children and how she provides support to families in the Hubs through workshops, advice and games.
“The importance of the Play Hub for the community and its acceptance among parents is perhaps best exemplified by a dad who, hurried home after work to make pancakes so that he could bring them to the Play Hub for everyone on several occasions. I am happy that the Phase III pilot: “Testing the Child Guarantee in Croatia” will enable the ECEC Play Hub and Toy Library to further strengthen its important role in providing support and serving as a meeting place for children and families in Orehovica”, Monika concluded.
Play Hubs and the training and education of experts working with preschool children, with the aim of improving access to inclusive preschool education is one component of the activities carried out by UNICEF in Medjimurje County as part of the EU Child Guarantee pilot program. Access to early childhood intervention in case of developmental delays and disabilities, as well as at increasing the availability of integrated social services for parents and families are two other components of this pilot program focused on achieving equal opportunities for every child and breaking the cycle of child poverty and social exclusion.
The pilot program “Phase III: Testing the Child Guarantee” is funded by the European Union and is implemented in seven countries within European Union with the aim of providing access to basic services such as health care, education, quality nutrition, quality housing and care for children growing up in the most difficult circumstances. The Republic of Croatia was given the opportunity to model the EU Child Guarantee in cooperation with European Commission and UNICEF to tackle child poverty and social exclusion, so this pilot program is aimed primarily at children with disabilities, children living in precarious family environment and children belonging to national minority groups. It is implemented in seven municipalities of Medjimurje County, and through cooperation and knowledge of implementing partners interventions take place in three areas: integrated child protection services and family support, early childhood intervention services and access to quality preschool education.
©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.”