Position of children with disabilities in the Republic of Serbia
Overview of Situation analysis’ findings
Serbia is a country of 7,186,862 inhabitants, of whom 17.6 per cent are children, but the number of children with disabilities is not known. Register of Children with Disabilities which is being developed by Batut Institute of Public Health of Serbia will provide precise data.
In Serbia in laws and public policies there is no unified definition or classification of disability used, which hinders collecting of precise information.
The most comprehensive definition in line with the definition in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities appears in the Law on Prevention of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities:
The term “persons with disabilities” indicates persons with congenital or acquired physical, sensory, intellectual or emotional impairment who are, due to social or other barriers, unable or have limited opportunities to engage in social activities at the same level as others, regardless of whether they are capable of carrying out such activities with the use of technical aids or support services.
Long-standing practice based on the medical model and parallel services specialized only for children with disabilities led to stereotypes and prejudices towards children with disabilities, which today significantly affects their equality and acceptance in society.
According to a survey conducted for the purposes of this situational analysis, 45% of parents report that they or their children have experienced some kind of insult, disrespect or harassment due to a disability in their child's development.
According to the same source, children were most often exposed to such behavior by:
- unknown persons / passers-by (28%),
- peers attending the same school (17%),
- employees in schools (7%),
- healthcare professionals (8%)
- public transport service providers (8%).
According to a survey conducted for the purposes of this situational analysis, 29% of children experienced rejection when attempting to use public services due to inaccessibility of facilities or inadequate conditions.
The substantial level of negative attitudes can also be seen in the results of the MICS 4 research, which show that one-third of the population (32%) think that children with mental and intellectual disabilities have a negative effect on other children in the family, while the same opinion is shared by a quarter of the population (23%) regarding children with physical and sensory disabilities. However, more than 90 % of the population think that with adequate support children with disabilities can make great achievements in their lives.
Poverty and social security
Children poverty is a noticeable problem in Serbia.
Given the increased household expenditure needed for children with disabilities, it can be assumed that the level of poverty of these children is even higher.
The survey conducted for this study purposes, found that 26 % of families felt their economic situation to be poor or very poor, while
as many as 60.1 % stated that their family earnings were insufficient to cover additional costs related to care for children with disabilities.
Education of children with disabilities and disabilities continues through two parallel systems - regular and special.
The data indicate that half of children with disabilities attend the education system in a segregated environment.
Of particular concern is the finding that parents of children with disabilities speak more positively about the experiences of children in special education compared to regular education, suggesting a lack of support for children in regular schools.
Mechanisms for adjusting the educational process in regular schools for children with disabilities have not yet been fully implemented.
The need for additional educational, health and social support for the child and the pupil is assessed by the inter-sector commission, but the position of this commission is such that its conclusions are not binding for the service providers.
Different types of support are funded from different levels of government, so coordination of support is difficult.
The overall assessment of all stakeholders is that support to children with disabilities that would allow them to participate in regular education and develop their skills and talents is not sufficiently available.
Survey results show that a large number of parents of children with disabilities still face barriers to school enrollment and that the most common reason is the attitude of employees that they do not have sufficient competencies to work with the child and that the child would be better off to another school (72%).
"We would prefer to have assistants for our children in education, but it is just wishful thinking."
Social protection and living in a family environment
The results of focus groups with parents indicate difficulties in identifying needs, coordinating service delivery, and informing children and families about their rights and opportunities for support.
"Nobody gave me any support or direction; it was very difficult. I had to do everything by myself, everything. Nobody mentioned the counselling. I went and informed myself, I didn't know anything. Only later (the parents) association came.”
Parents cite civil society organizations, primarily informal parent groups, as the most useful way to get information.
Local community services and informal support
The availability of community services for children with disabilities is insufficient. Thus, daycare is available for less than one-fifth of children (19.1%) and respite care only for 1.6%.
According to a survey conducted for the purposes of this situational analysis, families of children with disabilities significantly more rely on extended family than social welfare services - this is the case in 44% of families, while 16% of families in child rearing rely on support of neighbours.
Significant success in deinstitutionalization has been achieved in Serbia in the past decade, with the rate of institutionalization of children being one of the lowest in Europe. However, children are still being put together with adults in large institutions, which poses significant risks to their well-being.
Children with disabilities and disabilities are particularly prevalent in residential care and today make up 80% of the total number of children in residential care. An additional problem is the institutionalization of children at an early age, which occurs despite the legal ban on the placement of children up to three years in institutions, which is the problem pointed out by parents in focus groups.
"She said - I warmly recommend the institution to you. She told me exactly which one. When we asked her, 'Have you ever been there?' She told me she never has. How can you warmly recommend something that you never saw?" Then I got on the bus, after seeing the institution, for 6 months I didn't know what to do, my head hurt. And then I said I would fight for my child."
Accommodation conditions are often poor and non-stimulating, there is a large number of occupants in the rooms, children with disabilities in large institutions are excluded from the education system, without sufficient rehabilitation and treatment.
Insufficient support for parents to care for the health needs of a disabled child is the most common reason for placing children in institutions.
Parents recognize the challenges in the health care system, primarily in the aspect of timely recognition and diagnosis of developmental disabilities, specifically availability and quality of early interventions.
"We also wandered from doctor to doctor. Basically, we lost 3 - 4 years because the paediatrician says - she's spoiled, she'll talk. She's on her father, he was late with talking… nonsense."
A significant problem highlighted by parents in focus groups is that doctors do not provide information to parents in adequate manner. Even when disabilities are identified, early intervention services that are individualized, family-focused, holistic, and focused on enhancing a child's capacity are lacking.
Developmental counselling centres still lack adequate resources, are not evenly distributed, and thus the access and quality of their work are uneven. At all levels of health care, problems occur due to the lengthy process of diagnosis and adequate health support or support within other systems, as well as the lack of sensitivity or awareness of healthcare staff on how to work with children with disabilities.
When using health care services, parents also face unequal access to services, especially when it comes to therapeutic treatments.
“I am sick of having to explain to everyone - this kid has leaner muscles, she sits, she has to sit, and the doctor will call her. They say - she's an older kid, she can wait. It is sad that children have to wait when they go to a GP or anywhere.”
Protection against violence and abuse
Children with disabilities and disabilities are more vulnerable to abuse and neglection than children from the general population, especially if they are placed in residential housing.
24.6% of parents surveyed for this situational analysis suspect that their child has been subjected to violence or abuse.
Among parents who suspected child abuse, 95.6% of parents took some action. According to a report from parents, only a quarter of people who have committed violence against children with disabilities have suffered the consequences.
Conclusions and recommendations
- System for identification of children with disabilities and their needs, has to be established as soon as possible
- Increasing the availability of general services and services for children with disabilities, instead of setting up specialized services and facilities intended for children with disabilities only.
- Working on reducing prejudices and stereotypes towards children with disabilities, through public campaigns, but also education of employees in public administration and institutions (especially in the education system since children are most often in contact with this system)
- Working on informing families and children about measures to protect themselves against discrimination
- Introducing new or adapting existing measures to protect children with disabilities from poverty, including measures to support families living in poverty to cover the additional costs of child disability.
- Changing the method of assessment and amount of the allowance for care and assistance of another person so that it more closely matches the individual needs of the child for support.
- Working on the development of affirmative action measures aimed at the employment of parents of children with disabilities and the reconciliation of work and family responsibilities.
- Provide access to social housing programs for families of children with disabilities and work to increase the number of available social housing.
- Developing a National Action plan for inclusive education.
- Developing and funding additional support for inclusion in schools for children with disabilities both nationally and locally.
- Facilitating effective coordination between the various systems regarding support needed in the education process and, in parallel, working to improve the position and work of inter-sector commission.
- Improving teachers' competencies in adapting teaching to the needs of children with disabilities and in improving communication with children with disabilities.
- Increasing the accessibility of inclusive education to children with disabilities living in the residential care system (in institutions).
- Working on greater integration of the labor market and education of children with disabilities and enabling them to develop skills and knowledge that are relevant for later participation in the labor market.
- Reviewing the way in which existing community services are funded to ensure their sustainability, further development and improvement of the quality of community services.
- Consistently using dedicated transfers from the national level to ensure that support services are available in a consistent manner to suit the needs of children with disabilities and their families.
- Creating conditions for adequate and timely recognition of the necessary support for children with disabilities and their families.
- Improving coordination and inclusiveness of community services for children with disabilities and their families, and in particular intensive family support services.
- Developing practices in informing children with disabilities and their families about the rights they have under social protection system, and generally about children's rights.
- More determinedly continuing work on transforming social care institutions to prevent separation and greater support for the return of the child to the family, in line with the best interests of the child.
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