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On the occasion of the tragic deaths of two 16-year-olds girls – in Sopot and in Mali Lošinj – Prof. Gordana Buljan Flander, PhD, the Director of the Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center was hosted in RTL Today show on February 16, 2020:
Q: Who is responsible for this situation, for the fact that one teenage girl ended up dead on the street, so tragically?
Buljan Flander: I do not think that only one system is responsible. All of us who could help this child are are always responsible: health care, education, social and justice systems. We can’t work one without the other. Unfortunately, when something like this happens we always start talking about who is responsible, we start looking for who is guilty and point our fingers at the other. It would be so much better if we could use this tragic events as reasons for us to turn from blaming each other to cooperation with each other, and to realize that we cannot protect a child from only one aspect and only by our profession. These days I cannot sit in the infirmary and write the psychological report without taking care of what will happened to that child later; I need to be on the constant telephone line and in contact with social and education and the judiciary sector.
Q: You are mentioning several systems. Which of them are the most responsible to help young people when they start having problems, so they don’t get into worse problems, such as when they leave home or when they end up in a institutions?
Buljan Flander: Those who are on the front line. We usually point the finger at the Social Welfare or Justice Center, but in fact, if they don’t get information, if we don’t inform them about some child’s problems, then we who didn’t report are responsible. That are teachers, neighbours, kindergarten educators, pediatricians, healthcare facilities. If we forwarded information – as our Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center regularly informs the Center for Social Welfare – then the Center for Social Welfare is the one who also has to react very, very urgently. Social Welfare Center can come into the family and see what is happening, it can order some treatments, it can cooperate with other parts of the system, the Center is then at stake. And, of course, it is very important for the judiciary that everything is done in a hurry and that it goes quickly; it is importan that judicial proceedings don’t take 3-4 years. During that long time the child will be in some limb where we don’t know what to do with it.
Q: What’s with parents?
Buljan Flander: By no means would I call as culprit anyone specific, neither would I comment on anything specific. But I can say from the results of researches, that it is very clear that children who are problematic most often come from families with broken relationships. Children who are violent in adolescence and early adulthood, in most cases come from families where they have been abused. Research shows that 90% of youth convicted of murder come from families in which they have been abused. Abused children are 4-7 times more likely to be violent themselves in adolescence and at a young age. I always wonder when something like this tragedy happens, where have we been before? No child has became violent at once, no child has suddenly became problematic. But, we constantly wonder why someone is problematic with 15,16,17 years, why they are problematic with 13,14,15. But, where have we been when that child was 5,6,7,8 years old, when he went to 1st, 2nd, 3rd grade of elementary school, and when teachers in the classroom could see, or pediatricians, all of us in healthcare where such children come for check-ups.. . It seems to me that twenty years ago – when we started talking about children abuse – there was a lot more of enthusiasm among experts to report, to react, to inform… Now, it seems to me that this enthusiasm has subsided.
Q: Last week there was also a case of murder in Mali Lošinj, also a minor, a girl of 16 years. It turned out that the system was not working there, too. Everyone knew everything, the killer is a person well known to both police and institutions, but they did not respond in time. When will it improve in your opinion? Why didn’t it already improve after a series of similar events?
Buljan Flander: I don’t think that any single system can do it, not a single person. It is known who makes the policies. It is known that the state is actually responsible. When it comes to demographic measures, for me it is not a demographic measure to give one-time financial assistance to someone who has given birth to a child. A demographic measure is to ensure that children grow up in a safe environment. For years, I have been saying that we are being miserly on children. We are not ensuring that they grow up safely. You see that trough a small number of professionals working with families and a small number of counseling centers. Also, professionals who are responding, reporting, protecting children have no protection. That’s why those of them who might report doubt about it, thinking “I don’t want to expose myself to inconvenience, I don’t know how and who will protect me” and then they withdraw. I think it’s the state that has to connect all the sectors to function.