“Thanks to experts’ support, Rikardo’s development has improved”

Outreach team gathered as part of the EU Child Guarantee pilot programme has been helping the young family for the past few months.

UNICEF Croatia
14 November 2022

“Our biggest wish is for Rikardo to be healthy and to start walking soon”, said Igor and Martina, the parents of this happy 20-month-old boy. For the past few months, the outreach expert team from Médecins du Monde, gathered as part of the EU Child Guarantee pilot programme, funded by European Union, has been visiting them regularly in their home in Piškorovec, Medjimurje County.

“We spend most of the day with the children, taking care of them, especially of Rikardo, of course”, said Igor of his family’s daily routine, while Martina added that she hoped Rikardo would continue to progress and that she was very happy with the support from the outreach team. Although she’s only four, Rikardo’s older sister Larisa also tries to help her parents with her brother. She already knows the entire outreach team.


“When Rikardo was born, a month after he came from the hospital, we noticed the first difficulties because he wasn’t improving, but instead getting worse.” At first, I didn’t know where to go for support. It just hit us so suddenly. It was very hard for us, and it’s still hard for us now. We are concerned with how everything will turn out, how Rikardo will develop, so it isn’t easy. We are looking forward to his development, and to watch his reactions”, said Igor.

In the meantime, they listen to the experts’ advice and work with Rikardo daily. The progress in Rikardo’s development was possible because of the support and early childhood intervention provided by the outreach team.

“We see progress. For the past few months, he has been at home. Before that, he spent most of his time in the hospital. The outreach team helps us a lot when they visit. It’s easier for us because they give us advice on where to go and what to do”, said Igor.

UNICEF Croatia

Paediatrician Prim. Marija Jungvirth, MD, MSc, who has been visiting the family with the outreach team for the past few months, is happy not only with Rikardo’s progress, but also with his parents’ cooperation. Their only wish is to see their son as playful and healthy as his older sister, four-year-old Larisa.

“I met Rikardo and his family during a visit to the settlement together with the team. In cooperation with his parents, we proceeded with diagnostic testing. Their cooperation is very important. They have complete trust in the team that visits them, and in our advice. I’m pleasantly surprised. Rikardo’s parents are also happy because they can see progress thanks to the prescribed treatments and his initial physical therapy”, said Prim. Jungvirth.

"Every child is only a child, and every child matters!"

Specialists in Zagreb have prescribed Rikardo treatments, and Prim. Jungvirth believes that, together with the experts from the Special Hospital for the Protection of Children with Neurodevelopmental and Motor Disorders in Zagreb, and with the help of his parents, Rikardo will achieve the maximum possible development.

Strucna podrska
Strucna podrska

Early childhood intervention specialist Marijana Konkoli Zdešić agrees and adds that progress is visible every time the outreach team visits the family.

“The family is interested and actually tries to implement everything we tell them. We feel assured that we are on the right path because his parents always ask us when we’ll return”, said Konkoli Zdešić. 

The outreach team has to keep the entire family in mind and provide immediate support to them and the child.

„Znači konkretno, kroz neke konkretne rutine, situacije, pokazati što mama može i kako ga može poticati, a da to ne zahtijeva veliku ekspertizu i znanje, već zapravo prilagođavamo aktivnosti obitelji na licu mjesta. Nakon što vidimo dijete i snimimo cijelu situaciju, odredimo prioritete za obitelj i dijete te onda individualiziramo aktivnosti kako bi bile funkcionalne za to dijete, za koje bi to dijete bilo zainteresirano i motivirano“, kaže Konkoli Zdešić.

Rikardo’s individualised plan includes recommended toys and activities that will enable his parents to provide him with the adequate support. Early childhood intervention, a comprehensive support model that incorporates pedagogical, medical, therapeutic and social elements, is key to detecting possible risks and problems in children.

“It’s key to direct those children toward programmes that can provide them with support, as well as to get closer to the family. 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,” explained Konkoli Zdešić.

Strucna podrska

The main challenge is the unavailability of systematic care, which is why early detection does not happen early on and why disabilities are instead more frequently discovered at school. Because of this, UNICEF is cooperating with its implementing partners as part of the pilot programme “Phase III: Testing the Child Guarantee in Croatia,” funded by the European Union, on prevention and early detection in order to provide children with early childhood intervention services and support which is necessary for their successful development.


“Parents cooperate and ask us for information. They recognise us when we visit the settlement in which they live, so they approach us and say: “There is this family, a child was born. Can you take a look at them?,” said early childhood intervention specialist Marijana Konkoli Zdešić, who is happy with the progress she sees with each new visit.

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 UNICEF Croatia for the implementation of the pilot program “Phase III: Testing the Child Guarantee in Croatia,” funded by the European Union.