International Aid Network

The only day care centre for children with behaviour problems about to close

 

Juveniles stole two cars and burned them, Juveniles dealing drugs, Juveniles beat a homeless person, Juveniles beat the professor just for fun.

What kinds of thoughts do these headlines trigger in our mind?
Every fifth student aged 12-19 carries a weapon (stick, knife, chain, pistol), 21% of the students participated in group fights that resulted in the inflicting light or heavy bodily injuries, every sixth student reported that he/she performed a common theft, close to one-fourth of them consumed drugs. These are the results of a survey conducted several years ago within the International Self-Report Delinquency Study[1] among primary and secondary school students in Belgrade and Novi Sad.

The only Belgrade-based Day Care Centre for children and youth with behaviour problems is about to close by the end of April due to lack of financial resources. Children with pronounced asocial behaviour, children who have come into conflict with the law, who exhibit behavioural problems in school and family, as well as the parents of these children, will be left with no place where they can get comprehensive professional support in order to achieve positive changes. They will be left with no place in the community where intensive work is performed with these youth to support them in overcoming crises, bad habits, violent behaviour and help them get out of the whirlpool of delinquent behaviour.

The Day Care Centre is a part of the citizens’ association International Aid Network (IAN) working with members of vulnerable groups for 20 years, that in 2012 started an intensive program for children and youth with behaviour problems aged 7 to 22 and their family members. The comprehensive program is aimed at preventing the progression of more serious forms of behaviour problems and criminal offences by juveniles.

So far over 500 children and their family members have participated in carefully selected and structured activities. IAN counsellors, special educators, psychologists and skills trainers worked with them daily, intensely and devotedly, teaching them different skills, both life and professional, helping them develop tolerance, positive attitude towards work, learning and culture.

Juvenile delinquents are often perceived in general public as losers”, “criminals”, “irreparable delinquents”. The truth is that they, with adequate support, given chance and encouragement, can make a different choice and stay on the right path. Children with behavioural problems most often come from dysfunctional families; they are often victims of domestic violence, abuse, neglect and discrimination. Behind every problematic behaviour of a child there is usually a difficult life story, and there is always an evident lack of timely support and proper guidance from us adults or society, primarily families, schools, and other systems that should be the main backbone of the proper development of the child.

And the change is possible. The road is difficult, painless and long, sometimes it requires several years of work with a minor, but during the previous years, the phenomenal positive transformations have been recorded among the children and young people who come to our Day Care Centre.

Sasha (came to our centre when he was 17) had a long history of behavioural problems. He was a drug user, but also a drug dealer. Our work with him in IAN was focused on psychological counselling and support in learning thanks to which he continued his education and obtained a diploma from the School of Hospitality. Since he came to IAN he has not committed any new criminal offenses, the relationship and communication with his parents have been substantially improved. Today, he is much calmer, steadier. For two years now he has been working and providing for himself.

Svetlana (a minor when she came to IAN) was an excellent and successful athlete; she had a future in education and sports. The parents’ parenting style led to Svetlana starting running away from classes, leaving sport and abusing drugs. She came at risk of entering a circle of dependency. When we met her, she did not see the meaning of life and did not care what was going to happen to her. With the support of IAN, Svetlana, after two years of intensive treatment, stops taking drugs, returns to school and plans her future.

Sasha and Svetlana are only two out of a few hundred children whose life paths are certainly different than they would have been without IAN’s Day Care Centre. This may be confirmed by the children and parents who were a part of the program. The results show that, if a quality program is offered, along with the social and psychological support and the environment in which they feel accepted, children and young people can change their behaviour patterns, build positive attitudes towards education and work. This approach avoids the penalizing model and offers an alternative response of the social environment that does not reject or punish these children and young people, but empowers and supports them in adopting positive behaviours.

Unfortunately, programs targeting this group of children in Serbia are extremely rare. Except for a small number of cities such as Novi Sad and Kragujevac, local governments usually do not support them through their budgets because “problematic” children and young people are most often not recognized as a group that needs community services.

The work of the Belgrade Day Care Centre for children and youth with behaviour problems was financed almost exclusively through projects, primarily thanks to foreign donors such as the German organization SHL, the European Union and UNICEF.

Since 2014 the Day Care Centre fulfilled the standards defined by the state and has become a social service licensed by the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs. IAN is the first civil society organization in Serbia to obtain this license, and this is the only Day Care Centre in Belgrade of this kind. And it will be functioning for another two months. However, neither this nor, more importantly, the results achieved are not enough for the City of Belgrade and the state to recognise the need for a place such as this and include it in the system and budget financing. De facto, we are already a part of the system because 80% of our beneficiaries are referred to our centre by the city centre for social work and Higher Court in Belgrade. Although the Law on Social Protection foresees the plurality and equality of social service providers, civil society organisations are certainly discriminated against in many ways. Except for a smaller project, IAN`s Day Care Centre had no support from the city, although it is the only place that has a licence for providing the service of Day Care Centre for children and youth with behaviour problems.

Many experts and professionals from the city institutions working with this group of children have expressed their support to IAN. On the other side, decision makers think that it is enough for a big city like Belgrade to have services that the Centres for Social Work provide within their work. Each case manager at the City Centre for Social Work is in charge of an average number of 100 families. How comprehensive and of what quality can this family support be? Is this a good enough way to protect families, even those that are potential victims due to the lack of timely and adequate support for the family and the minor in a crisis?

If we want a healthier, happier and more stimulating society, the attitude towards preventive programs and successful community based treatment models for children with behaviour problems, must be different. If a problem or potential risk is detected in time, and the child is included in a program that is corrective, but also supportive, the children return to the right path, and the society gets mature young people who embrace the system of positive values.

Otherwise, we can expect another one of those titles in the newspaper every day. Worried?

 

Contact person for more information:

Gordana Stankov Stojilović, Programme manager

+381 11 3229 732

 

[1] V. Nikolić-Ristanović (Ur.) Delinkvencija i viktimizacija maloletnih lica u Srbiji: Rezultati Međunarodne ankete samoprijavljivanjem delinkvencije, IGP Prometej, Beograd, 2016

IAN Telecentar
Djure Danicica 5 Street
11000 Belgrade, Serbia

tel. +38111 3229 732
e-mail: edu@ian.org.rs

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