6th National Conference on Early Childhood Development and Parenting
Your excellences - Minister Grujicic, Minister Kisic, Ambassador Giaufret, dear Nikolina, professionals and parents, ladies, and gentlemen, Dobar dan
It has become a tradition to meet in December for the Annual National Conference on Early Childhood Development and Parenting. Thank you for joining us for the Sixth edition. The fact that there are so many people here, as well as online, is a clear sign that we are creating an unstoppable movement building an enabling society that will support every child to reach his or her full potential. And that should give us hope!
At the same time, we are aware that as a society we are facing a number of challenges – some of them being violence against and between children, mental health issues in adolescence, or the institutionalisation of children with disabilities.
Yet, we know that the foundations for preventing these adverse experiences and building children and family resilience lies in investing in the early years. And by providing nurturing care and building responsive relationships with children by both parents. In fact, ensuring the right conditions for healthy development from the start generates better outcomes than trying to fix problems later on in life.
So, how do we do that?
To develop full potential, and ensure good mental health and resilience, children need at least one supportive parent, caregiver, or another adult whom they can count on. As Urie Bronfenbrenner, a famous psychologist, said: “Someone’s got to be crazy about that kid. That’s number one. First, last and always.”
That’s true for every child, but especially for almost 60,000 children in Serbia up to the age of 6, who live in environments that put their development at risk and those who experience delays or disabilities.
Parents and caregivers need support to be the best versions of themselves for their children! They need to know and feel that society, the government, health, education and child protection systems and service providers are there for them. After all, it does take a community to raise a child – no one can do it in isolation.
Research shows that systemic support is effective. Unfortunately, in 2021 only 26% governments globally said they were reaching all parents and children who need such interventions.
Let us now look at the situation in Serbia.
Significant steps have been made in improving the quality of early childhood services. This is also due to the fact that Early Childhood Development and support to parenting have been set as national priorities.
UNICEF is proud that, in cooperation with line ministries, 50% of districts in Serbia have been supported to provide more innovative, inter-sectorial, and family-oriented early childhood intervention services for children with developmental difficulties and disabilities that are based on European standards.
Additionally, in 1/5 of municipalities in Serbia we have strengthened primary health care services, preschools, and social services, so that new quality parenting programmes reach every new mother and father with play and learning support. With these achievements Serbia shines as an example of good practice regionally and globally!
However, to fully bridge the equity gap for the benefit of every child and family in Serbia, the time has come to move away from piloting new services in selected localities and toward ensuring improved standards of all services that can reach young children and their parents in every town and village across Serbia. This requires significant commitments to embed good practices into systems – from amendments in legislation to equitable allocation of financial resources. But above all, it entails investing in health, education, and social welfare professionals, both those who are already in the system and those currently in training to become new professionals.
UNICEF stands ready to support the new government in its efforts to provide children and families with the best possible services. And we are not doing this work alone. The significant achievements for improvement of children’s lives in Serbia would not be possible without the generous support of the European Union. I want to use this opportunity to thank the Delegation of the European Union to Serbia, and also the LEGO Foundation, and our business sector partners that are all working with us to ensure that early childhood development and intervention services reach every child in Serbia.
We are working together because we are accountable to Nikolina and all the other moms and their partners, including those whose children are born prematurely or sick or those whose lives start in difficult circumstances. We must continue to join forces to support them to experience the joy of life and parenting. And if they feel pain and need help, they must have access to high quality support. In the words of the parents themselves – “Pain divided is not nearly as hard to bear as is pain in isolation.”
Parents need to know and feel that we stand by them and for them:
Navijamo za roditelje!
Tata mama mi smo sa vama!
Hvala za pažnju.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org/serbia