The best start for every child - support from the earliest years

Development of the early intervention system in Serbia - the importance of an intersectoral, transdisciplinary and family-oriented approach

11 October 2019
The best start for every child - support from the earliest years
UNICEF Srbija/2019/Vas

Belgrade, 11 October 2019 - Today's conference on the development of early intervention systems for children with disabilities and developmental delays focused on integrated, cross-sectoral support for parenting practices, while respecting the uniqueness and culture of each family. The participants were welcomed by Prof. Dr. Slavica Djukic Dejanovic, Minister of Demography and Population Policy and President of the Council for Child Rights of the Government of the Republic of Serbia, Prof. Dr. Zoran Radojicic, Mayor of the City of Belgrade, UNICEF Representative in Serbia Regina De Dominicis, representatives of the Ministries of Health, Education and Social Welfare and Miodrag Milosavljevic, Programme Director of the Open Society Foundation in Belgrade.

“The process of caring for children begins at an early age and depends on the environment in which the child grows up in. It is scientifically proven that every fifth child has developmental difficulties and that both the child and the family can benefit from early childhood interventions. In more than 70% of these children, thanks to timely inclusion in the early intervention programme, development returns to the expected course, while about 20% of children and families require long-term support. For this reason, only with the participation and support of line ministries, all relevant institutions and units of local self-government, can our mission be successfully realized, and results remain sustainable within the system for the benefit of all children and families,” said Minister Djukic Dejanovic.

In line with the recommendations of the analysis of the status of early intervention services in Serbia, a two-year project of trial implementation of the model of early intervention has been introduced in 2018 in Belgrade (in the Rakovica, Cukarica and Novi Beograd municipalities), Leskovac, Kragujevac, Sremska Mitrovica and Nis.

“The City of Belgrade plans to become even more involved in current initiatives to support young children, especially children and families from vulnerable groups. What we, as a city, a state, and as a society need to provide parents of children with disabilities with are quality and easily accessible services. While specialized institutions and hospitals have their own role in diagnosis and treatment, continuity of support for these families must be provided from the primary level of health care - in every part of our city and our state. On the one hand, through training of paediatricians and health associates and through improving the availability and quality of work of developmental counselling units, and on the other, by linking the health, social welfare and pre-school education systems as the most important links in establishing this system,” said Belgrade Mayor Zoran Radojcic.

So far, the predominantly medical concept of interventions has provided services mainly through highly specialized individual treatment work with a child, in specialized settings and most often without the presence of parents. Developing and implementing a new concept requires improving the knowledge and skills of professionals, a participatory approach, establishing cross-sectoral cooperation mechanisms at the local level, sharing knowledge among practitioners, and continuing support for families to embrace the implementation of the new approach.

“UNICEF, with its partners, is supporting the government’s efforts in strengthening the system of early childhood intervention. The system, based on inter-sectoral, transdisciplinary and family-centered approach is mainly designed for parents and caregivers to empower them in their unique role of fostering opportunities for every child. We are modeling in several municipalities and we hope to scale up nationwide in the coming year,” said Regina De Dominicis, UNICEF Representative in Serbia.

The pilot model of early intervention also requires modification and upgrading of legal and institutional solutions that will allow the new model to be introduced as a practice in all institutions. The representatives of the Ministries of Health, Education and Social Welfare expressed the commitment of all three Ministries to support the development of integrated forms of support for children with disabilities and their families through legislative solutions and strategies, as well as by intensifying the development of intersectoral work mechanisms.

Miodrag Milosavljevic, Programme Director of the Open Society Foundation in Belgrade, said that "in collaboration with the Early Development Programme from London, the Belgrade Foundation supports the development of a multisectoral model of early intervention in Serbia, which we believe will show great results for children and their families as is already the case in countries such as Bulgaria, Ukraine, Georgia."

The Development of the Early Intervention System in Serbia - the Importance of an Intersectoral, Transdisciplinary and Family-oriented Approach was supported by the Open Society Foundation Belgrade, in cooperation with the Early Development Program from London, the Austrian Development Agency and UNICEF.

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