Press conference was held on the role of the Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center on the occasion of the International Day of Families at the Center, on May 15th, 2019. The results and manner of work of the Center were discussed by the Mayor of the City of Zagreb Milan Bandić, Director of the Center Prof. Gordana Buljan Flander, Ph.D., President of the Zagreb County Court’s Youth Department Lana Petö Kujundžić, Ph.D. and the representative of the Center’s Parents Committee Berislava Picek. The conference was moderated by psychologist from the Center, Mia Roje Đapić.
The journalists were firstly addressed by the Director Prof. Gordana Buljan Flander, Ph.D., presenting data on the Center’s work from the past 16 and a half years since its foundation:
“I thank the Mayor and the media for not only being here today, but for all the 16 years of our existence during which you have followed us. I often say, and stand behind it, that the media is our partner in protecting our children.
During the past 16 years, almost 18,000 children and their families have found a safe place in our Center, they have undergone processing and treatment. With the support of the City of Zagreb as a founder, we started as a specialized institution for abused, neglected and traumatized children at a time when these children didn’t have their own place where they could receive full support and protection. What the mayor and I were wondering about 16 years ago was what children need from us in the system, not what all of us systems need from children. So children need support and help in one place, not walking from one institution to another. Our institution started with the aim of getting the help of different experts in one place.
Due to increased need to protect the mental health of children and young people, today we are opening the door to our children, young people and their families who have some other difficulties, other issues, other dilemmas, that is, for all children with developmental and daily issues and difficulties. What I would like to emphasize is that almost 50% of our patients, our children, come from areas outside the City of Zagreb, even though we are the Child and Youth Protection Center of Zagreb, simply because other cities don’t have similar institutions.
During first years of our work, we had 900 to 1000 children in treatment each year, but last year we had over 1500 children in treatment, with more than 500 children in treatment from previous years.
Last year, we also opened a daily hospital for our children and introduced therapy dogs that we use in diagnostics, treatment as well as in forensics. We continually educate, supervise and innovate so that our children have the highest standard of healthcare.
The key words in protecting our children and supporting families are multidisciplinary and cross-sectoral cooperation. We are in constant cooperation with the education, health, social care and justice systems.
What makes us known in the world is that we are the only healthcare institution in Europe that offers child questioning services for court purposes, as an important segment of child-friendly justice. Namely, in the Scandinavian countries there are institutions where children are questioned for court, but they are much smaller, they don’t provide such comprehensive protection and are in the justice system. At least once a week, we examine the children victims and witnesses of misdemeanors and children victims and witnesses of domestic violence. Last year, we had 300 children at the Center who were victims or witnesses of domestic violence.
One of the important goals of the Center is to educate the general public, therefore, to raise public awareness on the protection of the mental health of children: we issue manuals for professionals, children and families.
After being awarded the Best Multidisciplinary Team Award by the International Society for the Prevention of Abuse and Neglect of Children in 2008, we have been recognized by the Council of Europe since 2010 as an example of good practice in child protection. Indeed, we have at least two to three study visits a month by experts from many European countries who wish to transfer such good practices to their own countries.
We are teachers and associates in 13 graduate and 10 postgraduate and doctoral studies.
We have published hundreds of scientific and professional papers and actively participated in hundreds of national and international conferences. We are partners and experts in Europe’s largest child protection projects in Europe. I would particularly like to emphasize that in accordance with the highest standards of child protection, we have established a parent committee, children and youth committees who serve as advisory bodies to us experts.
Today, as we celebrate Family Day, it is an opportunity to remember that our children need to be in focus, that we professionals, but also all other citizens, have a legal and moral duty to protect children and be the voice of children, especially those who suffer. Sometimes this is not easy, sometimes we are exposed to criticism, pressure, additional commitments carried out by cooperation with other institutions of the system, but our mission and deep conviction is that every child, not only the one who enters our institution, deserves that we give our best, so that this child can become the best version of himself, so that this child can become a happy, satisfied and competent member of society.”
President of the Zagreb County Court’s Department of Youth, Lana Petö Kujundžić, Ph.D., spoke about the cooperation of the Center and the Court, that is, the importance of intersectoral cooperation in general:
”In the daily mode of our work when we work here multidisciplinary, I feel here primarily as a lawyer and as a long-time youth judge, but I often learn and have to learn from my psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, social educators… who tell me every day which opportunities in treatment work we have to act on children, to make them acceptable, unfortunately in the capitalist sense: will we receive them as adults who will be employable, healthy and without having to spend health and other resources that we have in the country.
As a judge, I thank the Center. I think the first attempt we made of the forensic interview was in 2000. In a forensic interview, the child who was harmed, abused, who was the victim in a criminal proceeding – that child could speak with a specially trained expert in a separate area without seeing his perpetrator. That start was very easy. We were all a little surprised if this would go ahead. And I think the Center has shown that we can do this outside of a courtroom that is not suited for working with children and where children feel terrible. When they come with their mom to the County Court, they think,”I am guilty for this happening. They took me here where they take other people who have shackles on their hands”. A child, aged five to ten, of course, cannot be easily undeceived: “This is a space where you will feel good, so tell us now about something bad that happened to you”. Without the Center and these experts who understand the forensic interview, we will not get the truth about where we can help the child and find out what causes the child to be, for example, misbehaving. Often, juvenile delinquency is actually a victim we did not recognize in his early life and where we didn’t do our best.”
Berislava Picek, a representative of the Parents Committee of the Center, warned parents about the importance of monitoring the mental health of the child:
”What we as parents do most of the time is that we are very concerned about the physical health of the child. If our child has a fever we will immediately rush to the doctor, we will worry a lot about the physical health of the child. Unfortunately, around mental health, we will try to squint and wait for some things to resolve themselves. Unfortunately, they won’t. As a parent, I would like to invite all parents to listen to their children and when they are not speaking, to watch their behavior, to watch their non-verbal communication, which says a lot and that they are not afraid if you notice that there are problems that they, as parents, cannot cope with. That’s not terrible. It is good to recognize in time what is to be recognized and it is good to arrive in time where to come. It’s a lot easier to deal with it at the beginning than to let things go too far. There are also moms and dads on the Parenting Committee, and I would like to say that parenting is equally important in these two roles. And that we are very proud of our dads on the parenting committee, who are creative, who are concrete and full of ideas. And I would definitely like to invite parents if they have any suggestion, idea, problem or anything, contact us, the parent committee, that we may be the hand who will try to help the Center for the benefit of our children.”
Mayor Milan Bandić recalled the time when the Center was being created, and praised the Center, which “contributes to Europe in a Zagreb or Croatian way”:
”It will soon be 19 years since we took the responsibility for the City of Zagreb, and 17 years have passed since the initiative for the establishment of the Center started by me and Gordana Buljan Flander. We are going to the European elections soon. I see Croatia working as Zagreb, and the proof that this is possible is this Center, which contributes to Europe in a Zagreb and / or Croatian way. That is the center of my view of Croatia in Europe. Croatia who builds and works in the Zagreb way and thus contributes to Europe in the Croatian way. Thank you for the two basic things that determine this Center – those are education and adequate information. In this synergy of education and information, I return to prevention. And that instead of those 900 children a year 7-8 years ago, we have not 1500 today but 400 or 500 cases where we can intervene early and treat the consequences. I would be happiest if that was the case. However, we live in a time where, unfortunately, the Center will have more and more work to do.”
At the end of the press conference, the Director answered a question explaining the increase in children coming to the Center:
“One of the reasons is that we have expanded our activities to include children who have not been abused and neglected or at risk of abuse and neglect. But we have an average of 100 children per year who have been sexually abused. Last year, we had 300 children who were victims of domestic violence.
Furthermore, one of the factors is that fewer and fewer parents get to spend time with their children. The other day I read a paper where it said that parents spend 8 minutes a day with their children. So in that small amount of time parents don’t get to protect them, raise them, or work to prevent abusive behaviour.
Another problem is that children are exposed not only to the educational influence of their parents, but also to various media influences, and the influence of video games, where we offer them violent heroes, where the more violent you are, the more popular you are. So, in fact, children receive wrong messages and the wrong values.
Another reason is that we still talk more about violence – let’s say when it comes to sexual abuse, the child will sooner say, because now he has a place to say it. They have the Brave Phone, the SOS Line, the Center… So, violence is not so much on the rise as we talk about it more, and the children open more.
Finally, one big, big cause is that there is another new platform for child violence, which is the digital world of today’s children, where cyberbullying is actually a huge possibility, and we have more and more such children. We are now working on one research on how much children send their sexualized photos and videos to each other and how much they are blackmailed with those photos and videos afterwards. That’s very much on the rise. New media provide new opportunities for traumatizing children. “
The conference was accompanied by numerous media, whose text and video contributions can be viewed at the following links:
The third conference of the Parental Alienation Study Group (PASG), the umbrella institution in the world for child alienation, was held September 12-14, 2019 in Philadelphia, USA. The PASG has more than 500 members, most of whom are professionals in the mental health and justice sectors, from more than 50 countries, and since last year's conference of the European Association of Alienation Practitioners (EAPAP) at the invitation of Professor Emeritus Dr. William Burnett, 10 experts from the Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center also joined.
Round table "Psychologists and 21 Century" was held within the framework of the 10th Psychology Week at the Child and Youth Protection Centre of the City of Zagreb, in Zagreb on 21 February 2017. The moderator of the Round table was Sc.D. Bruna Profaca of the Child and Youth Protection Centre of the City of Zagreb. Participants were Sena Puhovski, and Ivana Ćosić Pregrad, psychologists of the Centre, Prof. Sc.D. Gordana Keresteš of the Department of Psychology at the Faculty of Philosophy in Zagreb, Branka Starc, psychologist of the Centre for Parenting Support "Let's Grow Together" and Anamarija Vuić, psychologist of the Brave Phone NGO.
Barbara L. Bonner, Ph. D. and Susan R. Schmidt, Ph. D., clinical child psychologists, professors at the Child Study Center in the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, visited the Child Protection Center of Zagreb and conducted a three-day training for the professionals in our institution from 25 to 27 March.