"Thanks to workshops, I see a lot of positive changes in my son!”

Mother Jelena Bogdan attended “Growing Up Together Count Us In Plus” workshops aimed to supporting parents which are conducted as part of the pilot-programme "EU Child Guarantee"

UNICEF Croatia
Boy from Roma community in Croatia
11 November 2021

"Every moment we try to give our children everything we can, to put them first, that's how we want it to be. Our days are sometimes joyful, sometimes a bit hard, but we are always happy, and we stick together, we agree on everything and make plans", Mother Jelena Bogdan tells us about the daily routine of her family of five. Jelena is a caring mother, and she credits “Growing Up Together Count Us In Plus” workshops aimed to supporting parents which are conducted as part of the pilot-programme "Phase III: Testing the Child Guarantee in Croatia" funded by the European Union. 

Jelena Ptiček Perković, educator at the “Growing Up Together Count Us In Plus” workshops which are carried out by Center for Parenting Support Growing Up Together and the Čakovec Social Welfare Center, explains that the need to bring the topic of parenthood and strengthening parenting skills closer to the families of the Roma national minority has been noticed in the field. 

Thus, the “Growing Up Together Count Us In Plus” workshops have been developed for parents raising children in difficult circumstances and additionally adapted for families of Roma national minority. 

The program of the workshops consists of three parts: a workshop for parents, a workshop for children and a workshop for parents where they play together with their children. To make it easier for parents to apply what they learn at the workshops in the daily interactions with their children, comics, created in collaboration with experts from the School of Animated Film Čakovec, Center for Parenting Support Growing Up Together and UNICEF accompany each workshop.

The Growing Up Together Count Us In Plusworkshops are part of the Phase III: “Testing the Child Guarantee” pilot-programme, funded by the European Union and carried out by UNICEF Office for Croatia in cooperation with 11 implementing partners in Medjimurje County.

"It is a parenting support program, consisting of 15 thematic workshops. We start with general topics about parenting, what parenting means today, how demanding it is, what am I good at and what are my strengths if I am a parent. Then we talk about parenting in general, about something to strive for, about the so-called 4 pillars of parenting, what should a parent provide to a child. We move on to some topics of child development, we also talk about brain development, what children can achieve at a certain age, what, for example, not to expect from a four-year-old if it is not appropriate for their age. Then we move on to discipline, towards setting boundaries, towards developing communication skills, teaching them how to listen to children, how to establish a dialogue with them about feelings, but also about what is happening in the world around us. In fact, a parent is the first teacher to their child. Later, we look back at the childhood of the parents, what they learned from their families, what they would like to apply in their parenting role, and what they would change", explains the workshop educator Jelena Ptiček Perković.

Relationship with the partner, partnership, is one of the last topics covered in the workshops, participants are explained how much their partnership is reflected in their parenting. 


"We also point out the support network, who they can ask for help, we explain to them that it is not just a neighbour, sister or a husband, but that there is a well-established support system, such as Family Center, Social Welfare Center, general practitioner, paediatrician etc“, says Ptiček Perković. 

Despite the initial fear that there would be no participants in the workshops, or that those who started attending would give up in the meantime, the workshops were a success and currently there is a great interest for new cycle of workshops.

Growing Up Together Count Us In Plus workshop
The Growing Up Together Count Us In Plus workshops are part of the Phase III: “Testing the Child Guarantee” pilot-programme, funded by the European Union and carried out by UNICEF Office for Croatia in cooperation with 11 implementing partners in Medjimurje County.

"At the workshops, I liked the fact that everything we said remained between us, and that’s how it was from the beginning to the end of the workshop. It helped me a lot, I realized that I did not receive the support of my parents growing up, but also that I can provide that support to my children. Children need attention, care, and affection of their parents. Thanks to the workshops, my son Jakov has changed a lot, he was hyperactive and misbehaved before, now he listens to me and does more than I ask from him, he does what he thinks he can and knows. I have seen him write and draw many times, I’ve seen him prepare his own clothes, and even for his sister, so workshops helped us a lot with that", says  Jelena.

She thinks a lot about the future. 


"I hope that Jakov will finish elementary school and high school, that he will get a job and follow in my husband's footsteps or in his own, as he likes. But I hope he will do good, that he will have a lot of ups and not so many downs. For the girls, I also hope they will finish school and find a job, that they will have a good family and a husband like mine is", concludes Mother Jelena Bogdan. 

Children in Roma settlement in Croatia

Lidija Vinković, head of the Family Center Branch, Čakovec Social Welfare Center says that through these workshops, the Family Center also got the opportunity to familiarize with participants. She feels great pride because mothers came to the workshops for full 15 weeks in a row. 

"Until now, they have not had the opportunity to work on themselves, work on parenthood and on their strength, because in their community it was not even available. It was remarkably interesting for us to follow the progress from week to week, they themselves commented on how they learned to control anger. I think that is incredibly good and that mothers accepted it very well as a positive discipline. It’s also good they adopted some routines – feeding, sleeping, learning ... Because they stressed how they did not know how to organize their day. So I think that’s a noticeably big benefit for them. Mutual support is certainly something all of them will take home with them. I think they got certain strength here and they recognized it. They continued socializing, they go for walks with the kids, they go to the playground. The parenting comics we shared with them they use with their children, and I think that's how they enrich their relationship with them", Lidija Vinković says. 

For the success of the workshops Growing Up Together Count Us In Plus major credit goes to Roma cultural mediators, also called Growing Up Together activists (RAZA) who help educators to establish better contact with the participants of the program and overcome language barriers. 

"They have greatly contributed to the implementation of the workshops because some children who are included in the program do not know the Croatian language well. They helped with translation for children who have not been included in a preschool system so far. They did very well, they always encouraged me with 'let's go, let's go, let's go', and reminded moms to attend workshops on Wednesdays. I think it's actually exceptionally good and positive, I hope such programs will continue with opening of resource centers", concludes Lidija Vinković. 

Roma cultural mediator Natalija Sklepić and a girl
Roma cultural mediator Natalija Sklepić and a girl

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, 2021 “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.”

Growing Up Together Centre and Family Center Branch, Čakovec Social Welfare Center are implementing partners of the UNICEF Office in Croatia for the implementation of the pilot programme “Phase III: Testing the Child Guarantee in Croatia”, funded by the European Union.