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Evaluation report

2017 Serbia: Summative Evaluation of Child Care Reform in Serbia

Author: Roxana Irimia and Anita Burgund Isakov

Executive summary

With the aim to continuously improve transparency and use of evaluation, UNICEF Evaluation Office manages the "Global Evaluation Reports Oversight System (GEROS)". Within this system, an external independent company reviews and rates all evaluation reports. The quality rating scale for evaluation reports is as follows: “Highly Satisfactory”, “Satisfactory”, “Fair” or “Unsatisfactory”. You will find the link to the quality rating below, labelled as ‘Part 3’ of the report, and the executive feedback summary labelled as ‘Part 4’.


The child-care reform in Serbia started in early 2000th and since then considerable progress has been made in reforming the protection of children without parental care. The process of de-institutionalization has been initiated as a priority facet of the overall social system reform and as one of the long-term priorities of the Government of the Republic of Serbia. The efforts were aimed at initiating the transformation of existing residential institutions, the development of alternative forms of care for children (foster care),  the (re)-integration of institutionalized children into birth/foster families or family-like environment and development of community-based services with a focus on children with disabilities.
The object of the evaluation was the country’s child care reform (which was focused on 1/ strengthening services and measures aimed at supporting birth families and prevention of family/child, and on 2/ improving quality of formal care for children. The reform was made mostly based on two projects implemented by UNICEF: “Strengthening the justice and social welfare systems to advance the protection of children in Serbia” funded by EU, and “Stopping the placement of children under 3 in institutional care and developing services for families at risk” funded by Novak Djokovic Foundation.
This was a nation-wide evaluation and it covered the period from 2013 to October 2017. The evaluation particularly focused on the EU-funded project components: 1/ strengthening case management, 2/ strengthening birth families and preventing family separation through piloting new service ‘Family Outreach Worker’ in four main cities, 3/ better use of financial transfers targeting children with disabilities, 4/ enhancing the foster care system through piloting intermittent foster care) in four main cities and supporting improved kinship practices, and 5/ supporting the down-scaling of large-scale institutions through assistance in developing transformation plans. 


The overall aim of the evaluation was to determine to what extent advocacy, policy, regulatory, modelling and capacity building activities aimed at supporting birth families/preventing family separation and  improving the quality of formal care succeeded in ensuring that vulnerable children grow up in safe and caring family-based and family-like environments.


The initiatives implemented during the evaluated period were relevant because they focused on strengthening vulnerable families and demonstrated that with the right kind of support these families can provide caring and supportive environment for their children.
The piloted services proved to be beneficial in increasing family wellbeing and preventing family separation.  The challenges that remain are the administrative barrier to implementing intermittent foster care and the financial barriers regarding sustainability of the family outreach services.  The competences of professionals and staff of CSW increased when it comes to supporting families.  The technical support provided in developing the Law on financial assistance for families with children proved effective and will contribute to an increase in financial transfers to families with children with disability. 
The rates of children in residential care were constantly declining over the reference period evaluated.  The number of children in large-scale institutions has decreased but not to the level anticipated by the target (40%).  There has been a slight increase in children with disability in ‘regular’ children’s homes.
The capacity building aspects of the initiatives have produced sustainable results in particular related to professionals from centres for social work.  Financial sustainability of family outreach services remains an issue. 


In further strengthening CSWs focus must be on increasing the capacity of management structures in CSWs so as to advance human resource management, better deal with burnout, improve case distribution and the implementation of supervision, as well as improve referral practices.  Analysis needs to be carried out to look at staff / caseload ratios. 
The placement of children 0-3 in shelters should be recognized as institutionalization and family-based care for these children must be identified (e.g. emergency foster-care).
The Government needs to re-start and transparently intensify the process of transformation of residential institutions and re-activate the Working Group designated for this purpose.
Residential care for children with disabilities needs to be re-structured and centres around the principles of family-like care and small group homes.
Intensive family support services should be part of the mainstream system and a minimum amount of these services should be financed from the national level.
Local governments should be encouraged to establish different types of family support services.
Cross-sectoral approaches need to be applied to better address prevention of separation of the child from the family.
A stronger focus within child care reform needs to be on changing attitudes and addressing discriminatory practices. 
International organizations need to continue playing a key advocacy role in advancing child care reforms and work closely with local actors in the process.

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