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Evaluation report

2016 Croatia: Evaluation of Parenting Support Programmes

Author: Gordana Kerestes, Maja Horvat, Mirela Miharija, Danijel Bicanic, Ivana Belamaric and Lovorka Brajkovic

Executive summary

Formative Evaluation of Government of Croatia and UNICEF’s Parenting Support Programmes ‘Growing up Together’ and ‘Growing up Together PLUS’

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 2’ of the report, and the executive feedback summary labelled as ‘Part 3’.


Croatia is a high-income country with a strong policy framework for the protection and fulfilment of child rights and become a member of the European Union since 2013. However, one of the key challenges that Croatia continues to face is the long-term economic and financial crisis, which has strongly affected the country and had a negative impact on the well-being of children and family.

According to UN CRC, while the child is entitled to care, security and an upbringing that is respectful of his or her person and individuality, parents are entitled to support by the state in fulfilling their parental function. Council of Europe Rec(2006)19, including the Guidelines for professionals, describes important qualities in delivery of parenting support and principles of work with children and families, underlying that it is not just what is offered, but how it is offered that engages parents (e.g. partnership, relevant to the needs, the strengths perspective, non-stigmatizing & non-judgemental approach). 

In order to address the need for establishing quality and accessible parenting support services and encouraged by the request from the Croatian Education and Teacher Training Agency, the UNICEF Office initiated development of innovative, comprehensive models of positive parenting support intended for parents of youngest children in general population (“Growing up Together”, 2008) and for parents of youngest children with disabilities (“Growing up Together PLUS”, 2014). Both programmes provide methodology of community based parenting services in support to parents of infants and young children, and include continuous internal process evaluation to assess the impact and benefits for parents participating in the programmes.


The purpose of this evaluation is to inform UNICEF and all relevant stakeholders on the overall relevance, efficiency, effectiveness and impact of the parenting support programmes in order to feed the process of further improvement, adjustments and revision of the services, as well as to provide grounds for long-term sustainability of the service.

The main objectives of this evaluation are to:
1. Provide evidence on the achieved programme results and answer whether programme concept, structure and activities are relevant, efficient and effective against each programme objective:
a. to support parents of young children, including those of children with disabilities, in understanding and carrying out their parental responsibilities;
b. to encourage, support and build capacities of professionals working with parents, by providing structured, applicable and effective guidance and tools based on the contemporary concept of positive parenting;
c. to offer sustainable, accessible, affordable, non-stigmatised community-based support service to parents

2. Assess the management and coordination mechanisms of the programme, including the role of the Ministries, State Education and Teacher Training Agency, local authorities, local self-government and local communities, the Growing up Together Centre, kindergartens and other implementing institutions/organisations and UNICEF. 

3. Analyse programme recognition, role and contribution within existing early education and social protection/welfare system, in order to asses programme relevance as a ground for sustainability at the national level.

4. Provide recommendations for programme improvements and scaling up by the Government/local authorities to be regularly implemented in kindergartens, and other organisations and institutions within the educational and social welfare system.


The methodology model used for this evaluation was based on mix method approach of data gathering to yield the most reliable and valid answers to the EQs. The approach has been based on combining desk review of existing programme-related and relevant policy documents, as well as analysis of available secondary monitoring data. Primary data collection tools that have been used include impact survey questionnaire for involved parents, as well as face-to-face semi structured interviews and focus group discussions for identified key stakeholders. This approach enabled triangulation of results and thus robustness of the final evaluation findings.

Findings and Conclusions:

The programme emerged after a mixture of different types of inputs, including international trends on positive parenting, strategic focus of UNICEF to the issues of ECD and parental support, needs assessment among both parents and preschool teachers and professionals, coupled with motivation to decrease still high observed prevalence of corporal punishment.
The programme can be assessed as highly relevant for both target groups – parents and preschool teachers and professionals. This is based on the observed success to effectively put in place orientation towards ‘empowerment model’ vs. ‘deficiency model’, where parents become active partners.
There is a robust evidence of programme’s effectiveness to both implementers and parents as the main programmes’ target groups.  Implementers are in high percentages actually starting to implement workshops after the end of a standardized Training. Programmes show significant effect on parental self-assessments in a way that they feel more competent in their parental role.
The programme can also be assessed as cost-efficient, given its rather wide scope and quality standards in relation to the budget spent so far. This is primarily possible as it uses the existing network of preschool teachers and professionals who dominantly implement the programme in their regular working time, or with some additional compensation by their institutions. 
In conclusion to the programme’s impact, parents strongly recognize the effects of their enrolment in the workshops even when providing assessment from today’s point of view. In conclusion to programme’s sustainability, it can be determined that the programme has in 2016 reached a standstill with the changed ETTA’s attitude towards further financial support to the programme, seriously jeopardizing overall programme’s sustainability. The evaluation team has thus put forward a comprehensive alternative model.


Strategic recommendations (SR)

  • Introducing local self-governments as founders of preschool education to become primary agents of programmes’ financial sustainability
  • GuTC to open up towards private kindergartens on an income-generating basis and to subsequently level-up the needs of those self-governments wanting to take part in the programme but being at the lowest regional development index
  • Maintaining ETTA’s role to publicize the programme through their web portal and to offer formal certification to involved implementers
  • Securing national verification of the programme
  • Further advocating towards clearer acknowledgment of parenting support services as a right of each parent
  • Institutionalizing education of new implementers in the social care system
  • Monitoring regional presence of the programme and designing focused regional promotion
  • Designing a new online monitoring tool to secure sustainability of currently sophisticated but burdensome monitoring practices
  • Maintaining good practice of interdisciplinary implementation teams

Operational recommendations (OR)

  • Preparing financial projections on the key implementing aspects
  • Encouraging promotion of the programme through parents-to-parents promotion
  • Standardized monitoring of the emerging drop-out rates of parents
  • Securing baby-sitting services in implementing institutions during the workshops
  • Promoting at least some type of compensation for involved implementers
  • Clarifying conditions for compensation to implementers by formal advancement
  • Extending the collection of pre/post/after questionnaires beyond the first implementing cycle for each new implementer
  • Securing more stable implementation of Parents’ Clubs to interested parents
  • Where possible, offering also individual counselling to parents, with priority to GuT Plus parents 
  • Stronger promotion of joint attendance by both parents

Lessons Learned:

Key lessons learnt:
LL1: Stronger use of result-based frameworks in programme development phase
LL2: More explicit comparative approach in programme development to find the most suitable design and implementation model
LL3: Formalizing collaboration with institutional stakeholders whose commitment is strongly expected
LL4: Maintain the level of sophistication of used monitoring practices in any other similar programme

Full report in PDF

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Report information





Early Childhood Development (ECD)


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