Leaders from more than 20 countries across Europe and Central Asia urge for increased support for parents of young children – critical for healthy child development

UNICEF’s Regional Conference on Early Childhood Development and Parenting is a response to the urgent need to support parents of young children across the region

25 June 2024
Parents play with their child.
UNICEF/UN0624388/Zivojinovic

BELGRADE, 25 June 2024 – Leaders from more than 20 countries across Europe and Central Asiaurged for increased support for parents of young children during UNICEF’s Regional Conference on Early Childhood Development and Parenting, held today in Belgrade, Serbia.

The two-day conference – organized by the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Serbia, UNICEF Serbia and UNICEF Europe and Central Asia Regional Office – is being held in response to global recognition that parents have the greatest influence on their children’s development, and many lack the support they need.

According to survey data, around 70 per cent of parents in 15 countries across Europe and Central Asia report needing parenting support, but half lack access to adequate, quality services and care they need. 

“Policies and programmes that reach all parents, and a safety net for the most marginalised families are among the best investments societies can make. When parents are supported to give their children love, care, stimulation and safety, children have a better chance of learning effectively, developing resilience and living happy, healthy lives. Health, education and social welfare sectors must work together to give parents the support they need to help their children thrive,” said Regina De Dominicis UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia.

“When parents are supported to give their children love, care, stimulation and safety, children have a better chance of learning effectively, developing resilience and living happy, healthy lives.”

More than 300 experts, policymakers and early childhood development and parenting professionals attended the first day of the conference. They underscored the importance of integrated support systems for families with young children.

Successful programmes from across the region that equip parents with practical tools and guidance to enhance their caregiving skills and their own well-being will be shared during the second day of the conference. This includes the home visiting model being scaled up by countries across the region and UNICEF’s Bebbo parenting app, currently reaching over 1 million parents.

“Over the past decade, investments in Serbia's health system, in collaboration with the education and social protection sectors, have systematically improved services for parents of young children. Our primary health care system excels in preventive measures, ensuring children's health, nutrition, safety, and developmental support. Through home visiting nurses, paediatric services and developmental counselling centres, we effectively detect and address health risks, developmental delays, and unsafe living conditions. I am proud that Serbia is an example of good practice in the region and beyond," said Minister of Health Zlatibor Loncar.

“The entire social community depends on the proper actions of parents. And vice versa. The roles of parents and society in shaping an individual personality are crucial and interconnected, making dialogue and support between them essential for building a healthy and content society. Both forms of parenting - biological and the social - must work together thoughtfully and systematically, especially early development, to ensure a child grows into a healthy and mentally functional individual. For this reason, we are eagerly looking forward to the end of the year, when we will officially open the Centre for Early Child Development and Inclusion in Belgrade. This centre will serve as a hub for close cooperation, dedicated to prioritizing the well-being of the youngest members of our society,” said Serbia’s First Lady Tamara Vucic.

Systems that offer comprehensive and high-quality support to parents help them feel confident and capable of supporting their children’s development and well-being and help ensure the best outcomes for their children. This can be achieved through strengthening multisectoral services, a skilled workforce and an enabling environment, and family-friendly policies including adequate leave and benefits, and access to quality, affordable childcare.

Community-based networks play a crucial role to child development and parental support as they offer information and resources, guidance, mental health care and early learning opportunities.

UNICEF works with governments to increase investment in comprehensive, system-wide solutions to support effective parenting and child development across Europe and Central Asia.

Media contacts

Georgina Diallo
UNICEF Europe and Central Asia
Tel: +41 76 320 68 14

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For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit https://www.unicef.org/eca/.

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