Speech by UNICEF Representative in Serbia, Deyana Konstadinova
Introductory speech for the online conference on parenting "Parent in the spotlight"
Dobar dan, dobrodošli!
Your Excellency Minister Lončar,
Dear mothers and fathers, professionals and guests, media representatives,
I am very pleased to speak today about such a positive and important topic as Parenting at the very beginning of my term as UNICEF Representative in Serbia.
Everybody would agree that parents are the key architects of children’s lives and consequently of society at large. Parents shape experiences and create opportunities for children’s health, learning, protection, growth, well-being and development on a daily basis.
This comes so naturally that we often forget to even ask them how they are. Today we would like to use this opportunity to discuss the question whether we are giving enough support to parents and what we can do together to put them at the centre of our attention!
Nobody is born a parent, while everybody wants to be a good one.
Primarily we take care of our children’s health, we strive to provide them with proper nutrition and create a safe and protective environment. All this is important, but it is not enough. The most important ingredients for the development of child’s brain are love, care, affection, listening and responding to the child - in one word – responsive caregiving.
These supportive and positive practices are effective if we use a language that children can easily understand, accept and enjoy – PLAY. Every child is born with the innate ability and wish to learn. As the famous Serbian poet Duško Radović said “Ne postoje dobra i loša, već samo različita deca”.
Only when parents and caregivers are supported by society, we create a fair chance for every child to reach its full potential.
However, both children and parents need comfort, connection, emotional safety as only supported and nurtured parents are capable of encouraging playful child-parent interaction.
Let me share with you key figures from the latest MICS survey, conducted by the National Statistical Office and UNICEF and published last week. Although most of the caregivers (90%) do not approve violent disciplining, still as many as 1 of 2 children face violent disciplining at home which can leave life-long scars (both physical and mental) in children. How come there is such a big difference between parent’s wish and the reality children experience? The situation is even more alarming with smaller children, as 1/3 of children 3-4 years of age are exposed to physical punishment. Also, still only 41% of fathers are actively involved in learning and playing with their young children. While all parents need some support, some need more than others.
The good news is that all parents can learn responsive caregiving, and this is one of the key take-away messages I would like you to leave this conference with.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us of the important role parents play in times of crisis. In many cases parents and caregivers have become frontline responders to the crisis of care and learning for their children, many times stuck at home for months while working and learning from small living spaces. At the same time, they manage stress of balancing work and family life while facing economic challenges. The provision of quality parenting and family support is critical to achieving the best possible development for all children.
While we are all continuously adapting to the challenges, uncertainty and unforeseen events of the 21st century, let us recognize that it also brings us many advantages that improve the quality of our lives.
UNICEF has been an organization driven by innovations in supporting children and fostering equitable chances for everyone, since it was established, 70 years ago.
Talking about strong partnerships, I would like to express my sincere gratitude because the Minister of Health is with us today. When designing programmes for parents we have to rely on the structure, knowledge and existing capacities of the health system. In the past years, in partnership with the Ministry of Health, we have invested in improving capacities of home visiting,patronage nurse services and developmental counselling units in supporting parents for early childhood development in several locations.
We’ll use this momentum to make a public promice to scale up these innovative, evidence-based practices across the country - together. We will also aim to strengthen their focus on supporting mental health and emotional well-being of parents.
Let me thank another, yet critical and dedicated partner in this field – the LEGO Foundation, our trusted global partner that selected Serbia to support the scaling up of the playful parenting programmes.
Finally I would like to emphasize that only by establishing partnerships between diverse systems, civil society, local self-governments, private sector, parents and professionals, government and policy-makers and by listening and respecting diverse voices, we can make the desired change in the live of every child in Serbia.
Let us work together to create an environment where every child will be supported to make the most of his/her potential.