Professionals and parents gathered at the first meeting of the Parents’ Committee of the Child and Youth Protection Centre of the City of Zagreb on 24 April 2017. Prof. Sc.D. Gordana Buljan Flander and other professionals welcomed the parents, emphasising the importance of cooperation and exchange of experience and ideas among the parents and the professionals in achieving changes which may contribute to children and families welfare in the society.
Parents’ Committee, as we wrote before, is an advisory body focused on fostering institutional activities in accordance with the needs and best interests of children and families within the Centre and other institutions dealing with mental health, welfare and safety of children. The first meeting was attended by seven mothers and fathers, members of the Committee, and Prof. Sc.D. Gordana Buljan Flander, director of the Centre, Domagoj Štimac, MD, psychiatrist, director deputy, and psychologists of the Centre, Ana Marija Španić, Mia Roje and Tea Brezinščak.
Thanks to the commitment and enthusiasm of the parents in the Committee, it started working immediately. Parents, through discussion and sharing their experience, identified the most important needs of children coping with challenges in the family and in the area of mental health, as well as with various challenges interfering with the realisation of their full capacities in education.
Parents emphasised the importance of prevention and prompt support of the child and the family. They concluded these were often missing due to insufficiently developed awareness about mental health as a foundation of realised and healthy life at any age, as well as to deeply rooted negative attitudes in the society which are the cause of insecurities and hesitation in parents’ seeking support which their children need. They underscored that parents needed clear information about available sources of professional help and methods how professionals can help their children and the family in overcoming difficulties.
Parents understand that many actually do not have a clear idea of Centre’s activity – they are not aware that it is an institution which is available to all children and families, not only to those exposed to abuse, that the Centre’s services are free owing to the fact that it works within the health care system, and that support of various professionals is available at the Centre. Parents believe that what is necessary is working on raising awareness at the society level about the importance of mental health and on removing the present stigma. “If we can say: I have a toothache, I have to visit my physician, why is it still difficult to say: I cannot cope with this, I need to talk to someone…” one mother said.
Parents also mentioned that many children attending individualised or a special needs programmes encounter difficulties at school, non-understanding of children’s difficulties and failure in fulfilling children’s educational needs. They concluded that there is a need for education of professionals working with children, about how to support children coping with the mentioned challenges, as well as about the support for parents by providing information about their and their children’s rights and realising these rights, which was underscored as the first goal of the Committee activity.
We want to thank these parents for their readiness to share experience and ideas with us, as well as for the ensuing conclusions. We are looking forward to our future cooperation and believe that parents are essential partners in attaining our mutual goal – a society focused on the needs and rights of children and families.