Children cannot wait
A regional conference on services of early identification of developmental delays and disabilities and early intervention is being organized in Montenegro, with the support of the Government of Montenegro, UNICEF and the EU
PODGORICA, 9 November 2022 – Recognizing developmental delays and disabilities in the first years of life and solving them through early intervention is an extremely important process as it gives children a chance to develop to their full potential and overcome difficulties in development. In addition, this approach reduces the impact of developmental disabilities.
"The earlier we detect the problem, the greater the chances for the treatment process to be timely and successful. In accordance with UNICEF’s recommendations, the Ministry of Health has meticulously approached the development of the Strategy for Early Child Development, which will contain the guidelines and protocols in this area."
Minister Šćekić opened the two-day regional conference titled “Optimal Early Childhood Development for Every Child”, organized with the support of the Government of Montenegro, UNICEF and the EU.
Furthermore, Minister Šćekić also announced the introduction of new statutory provisions in the Law on Health Care, which will recognize and improve early screening for rare diseases in newborns, while improving prevention, prenatal care and support through counselling centres, both in maternity wards and in health centres. According to him, special emphasis will be placed on educational programmes for the medical staff, in order for them to be trained to recognize and detect early signs of illness.
UNICEF Montenegro Representative Juan Santander believes that the money currently being spent by Montenegro for the treatment of children in other countries could be better invested in early intervention services in Montenegro.
"Children cannot wait. They are growing now. They need our support today. Therefore, UNICEF is calling on the national and local authorities and relevant institutions to ensure adequate funding of early intervention services. We are also calling for the establishment of an integrated system of early intervention services throughout the country so that every family can benefit from them."
Santander called on everyone capable of supporting this process – from the civil, private, academic, media and other sectors – to do so and thereby support the exercising of every child’s right to optimal growth and development.
At the conference, the findings of the national Situation Analysis of Early Childhood Intervention in Montenegro were presented.
The analysis shows some worrying data, as it is estimated that only between 31% and 46% of the children needing Early Childhood Intervention services have been identified and served.” One of the key challenges indicated in the analysis is the lack of a universal child tracking system to ensure that no child, once identified, will “fall through the cracks” and thus fail to receive the services.
Director of the Institute for Mental Health in Belgrade Prof. Milica Pejović-Milovančević said that it was not all about genetics and that the influence of the environment on children’s growth and development was extremely important. She also reminded that the US economist James Heckman had received the Nobel Prize for showing that the most successful preventive health programmes were precisely those implemented during the first three years of life. Finally, she called on experts to improve cooperation with parents and talk to them about how they felt, instead of focusing on establishing a diagnosis.
Savo Knežević, parent of a child with developmental disabilities, called on decision-makers and all the professional public to ensure that early intervention was implemented as early as possible, i.e. on time, as well as to establish effective inter-sector cooperation and to include engagement with parents and families in priority activities, so that parents would be sufficiently empowered to support their children’s development on a daily basis.
“I am calling for continuous action to reduce the stigma around atypical child development and to improve the inclusion of children with developmental disabilities in communities.”
The conference gathered around 200 experts and representatives of relevant institutions from Montenegro and other European and Central Asian countries, and was organized within the regional programme titled “Mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on children and families in the Western Balkans and Turkey”, funded by the European Union.