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Participating at the 7th European Forum for the Rights of the Child

Child Protection Center Director, Gordana Buljan Flander, Assoc. Prof., Ph. D.,  and Marija Crnković, psychologist, participated at the 7th European Forum for the Rights of the Child titled Supporting child protection systems through the implementation of the EU agenda for the rights of the child. The Conference was held in Bruxelles, 13th and 14th of November, organised by the European Commission.

The aim of the Forum was the exchange of opinions about practical measures which can be taken in the promotion of cross institutional cooperation and multidisciplinary approach ensuring the best possible conditions for children in the child protection systems and the judiciary including gathering information about how key actors from EU and other institutions can support member states in this area.

On the importance of single hotline number 116 for children

On the first day high officials spoke about child protection from their own perspectives, pointing out that this year there was a number of participants who were going to discuss preventive actions, share good experience and examples of good practice and that every participant of the Forum should come up with an idea how s/he can contribute to child protection. Viviane Reding, the Vice-president of the EU Commission and European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, spoke about the importance of the hotline and the 116 number for children. Twenty member countries have already established it, while seven still do not have it, but the EU Commission will continue to insist on establishing it.

EU data show that 15% of victims of trafficking were children. It is important that EU institutions ensure strategy for these children to get psychological and social help. She also emphasised the importance of establishing a system of child protection at the national and the EU levels. She expressed a belief that it was important to share experience because some solutions can help other member countries, too.

Roberta Angelilli, the Vice-president of the European Parliament, emphasised recent positive changes in child protection, especially in the protection of child victims of crime. She mentioned the existence of the victims of the system, an example is when it is slow, and stressed out the need for more efficient and faster response to children’s needs. She also pointed out the importance of the prevention of drug abuse. New drugs appear on the market on a weekly basis, while the youth does not even recognise how harmful they are.

Pilot project about children’s rights during parental separation and divorce announced

Action plan for the children and youth unaccompanied by a parent or guardian, which is a problem in all member states, has been recently discussed in the European Parliament. She stressed the problem of child trafficking and abduction after divorce, announcing a pilot project on the rights of the child in cases of parental separation and divorce for 2013. She pointed out that we should not neglect that the child is also included in divorce and not only the two partners who may be coming from two different countries saying that we were coping with the financial crisis now, and the risk of poverty striking young children and youth was on the increase, while the lack of resources was leading to early school abandonment, unemployment and other risk factors.

László Andor, the EU Commissioner responsible for employment, social affairs and inclusion, said that he held hopes for this Forum to lead to the new preventive approach in child protection. He pointed out that more than 27% of children were at risk of poverty and social exclusion, while more than 20% of children lived in serious financial difficulties. He emphasised that some countries had to focus more attention to child protection by educating professionals and parents, providing adequate life conditions for children and opportunities for play, and supporting and counselling parents which is why they would be able to cope with stress better and engage in responsible parenting.

European consensus on humanitarian aid

Allocating material resources for child protection is considered to be important because protection and support of children brings better future for the society overall. Véronique Arnault, Director for multilateral relations and human rights at the European external action service talked about the importance of protecting two groups of children – those affected by war and children in general and how extremely important fast and efficient response of the system was in the first group due to high risk of child death. Florika Fink-Hooijer, Director for strategy, policy and international cooperation in the European commission for humanitarian aid and civil protection also talked about the rights of the child in war. She said that European humanitarian aid should include help based on the needs of the recipients and the respect for humanitarian principles.

European consensus on humanitarian aid refers to the necessity of focusing more attention on the most vulnerable (women, children, elderly, sick and persons with special needs). Children in war can be separated from their families or become orphans, they can be recruited, they are not aware of the risks threatening them; if they are born during the war, their birth is sometimes not recorded and they do not even exist in documents, while, at the same time, institutions which should protect them are weakened. Emily Logan; Irish Ombudsperson for children, talked about the role of the ombudsperson for children, saying that ombudsperson’s office is an independent institution, giving legal advice to clients and promoting the rights of the child.

Ernest Ryder, the Hon Mr Justice, presiding judge of the UK Northern Circuit, emphasised that justice should be child friendly and that the justice system in the UK was shifting from the traditional approach to the approach based on the child welfare and the therapeutic effects of court orders. He believes that judges should develop new skills, see the process from the child’s point of view and direct their attention to research and examples of good practice. He pointed out that judges do not have to be specialists in every area, but they must know who the experts are and how to find them.

Our participation

Five workshops were held on the second day. They were: Child protection systems and child-friendly justice; Involvement of child welfare authorities in cases relating to child custody; The role of child protection systems in protecting children on the move; The role of child protection systems in protecting children from violence; The role of child protection systems in protecting children with disabilities.

Our Director Buljan Flander held the workshop The role of the child protection systems in the child-friendly justice and the psychologist Crnković participated in the workshop The role of child protection systems in protecting children from violence. As one of the panellists invited by the European Commission and the Council of Europe, Director presented the work of the Center, especially its work in cooperation with the justice system, possibility of interviewing children on the premises of the Center, where specialised professionals interview the child while other parties in the court proceedings (the judge, the state attorney, defenders, representatives of social care agencies and the police, the defendant) were in another room asking the questions directed at the child via a video-link.

Apart from protecting the child from multiple questioning thus enabling his/her faster recovery, this also speeds up the court proceedings. Judges who used our facilities to question children reported that court proceedings were shorter, and none of the parties appealed to higher courts after the first degree court ruling. In the workshop The role of child protection systems in protecting children from violence where Marija Crnković participated, the discussion included topics like the obligation of establishing the child protection system, of reporting violence towards children and among children, possibilities of more serious evaluation of prevention and intervention programmes in protecting children from violence and the need for tighter coordination between the European Union and its member states.

Conclusions of the forum

Some of the conclusions of all workshops presented at the closing session of the Forum are: high importance of cooperation between all involved systems and professions, the importance of the multidisciplinary approach, need for clear structure of roles and responsibilities of all who are involved, establishing protocols of cooperation, additional training and supervision for the involved professionals, the need ob public awareness raising, taking care of data protection and opinions exchange on how to implement all mentioned above in practice where the Child Protection Center of Zagreb was referred to as one of the examples of good practice of cooperation with the justice system.

Conclusions and recommendation of this Forum will be published on the official web site of the European Commission.