T portal: Interview with Professor Gordana Buljan Flander, Director of Child and Youth Protection Center of Zagreb

T portal has published a coprehensive interview with our director, prof. Gordana Buljan Flander, PhD about her career and work with children entitled “Meet the psychologist, founder of the Brave Phone and the Woman of the Year who has devoted her whole life to protection of  children”:

“In the early 1990s psychologist and psychotherapist Gordana Buljan Flander among the first has recognized the need for the protection of children whose life is not awarded with a stable environment in which they would grow up carefree. At that time when many did not have an ear for burning issue of abused and neglected children, successful psychologist founded the Child and Youth Protection Center of Zagreb and NGO for support to abused and neglect children “Brave phone”.

Over 30 years of her career Gordana Buljan Flander has dedicated to children and her work has been recognized and awarded with numerous awards. Today she works as Director of the Child and Youth Protection Center of Zagreb, she is professor at several faculties, permanent expert witness at the Zagreb County Court, as expert of the Council of Europe she actively participates in various European and world projects dealing with child protection, she held various education, trainings and supervisions, and she is currently finishing her eight book “Science and Art of Upbringing”.

She always knew that she wants to work with the children

What her rich resume does not include is a huge number of children who, through her work, she helped and provided them protection. Do you know those rare people who have always had a clear vision of occupation in which they want to spend the rest of their lives? One of them is Gordana Buljan Flander. This native of Dubrovnik has always known that she wants to work with children so she has nothing else then to follow her intuition.

‘By the end of high school I decided to study psychology and never regretted it. Although I may not have been able to explain why I was so attracted to working with children, today it is clear to us that, as much as we invest in them, they return more. The joy I feel when the child with my support was recovered from very difficult experiences and conditions, when I can ‘let go’ that child to continute with its life with a clear idea of being good and happy, this joy is different from all other joys”, professor Buljan Flander said for Tportal.

She founded the NGO Brave phone because she felt that the children did not have anyone to talk to

Help line of Brave phone, which is active from 1997, when it was founded, involved more than 900 volunteers so far. Professor Gordana Buljan Flander decided to start it at the time when she worked in health care system and volunteered in shelter for women and children victims of domestic violence. The Brave phone began with only one phone, psychologist and  few enthusiastic students. Today it is one of the most recognized NGOs in Croatia.

“By that time, I had met many children and young people who have suffered high-traumatic and traumatic experiences, and felt that they did not have anyone to talk to”, says Buljan Flander. For similar reasons she also founded the Child and Youth Protection Center of Zagreb.

Child and Youth Protection Center of Zagreb has helped over 17,000 children

So far, Child and Youth Protection Center of Zagreb has helped over 17,000 children and their families. With 300-500 children from past years, each year, new 1500 children and their families are seeking help and support in our Center.

“I have found it of the utmost importance that children and young people with their families can get multidisciplinary assessment and treatment in one place under the auspices of their right to health care. It seemed to me very important that they don’t have  to ‘walk’ from one institution to another where different systems ask what they need from a traumatized and abused child,  rather to give children and youth opportunity to be asked what they need from us and that what needs to be done is done in one place” explains the psychologist.

Knowing that she has helped to a child is stronger than all the bad side of this job

Besides a lot of sincere children’s love that she gets in return for her effort and work and the knowledge that the child will get the necessary protection, this work carries also another, ugly side of the coin. Traumatic stories of children and young people are also traumatic for those who work with them, which often leaves painful scars.

“The feeling that I helped a child, no matter how tedious and difficult the process, provides the inspiration, strength and desire to go further. Regardless of the heaviness of their stories that I carry home with me, I admire these children, they give me a different perspective on life. I learned from them about capacity of human strength to recover from the most difficult trauma, even when it seems to us that there is no exit. Many children and young people stay in touch with me after their treatment, and occasionally they come up for some advice or to share some of their accomplishments, or to invite me to their child’s communion, chrism, graduation, diplomas or christenings, seek advice for their children. I recently met a young mother who approached me on the street and said she was my patient when she was nine years old, and that treatment experience helped her to be a good mother. Such moments are a great reward and encouragement”, says Buljan Flander, also mother of two dauthers

Leisure time is best spent with family in Dubrovnik

Although she is unwilling to talk about private life and about her successes, with the hope that her work speaks for themselves, she is prowd to say that her two daughters are her greatest ‘strength, pride and support’. Growing up in the atmosphere of what Gordana Buljan Flander lives and works, her daughters decided to build their careers also in the area of ​​child protection – older daughter Ivana is a lawyer who works as a deputy to the Ombudsman for Children, and younger daughter Mia is a psychologist working with children in SUVAG.

“No matter that I work a lot, even in my leisure time, I have a private life that fills me and makes me happy. I love reading, traveling, hiking, hanging out with dear people and working on myself in every sense”, said a successful psychologist, adding that she uses every opportunity to visit family and friends in Dubrovnik, where she spends every summer.

As icing on the cake came Woman of the Year award

For her work she has received numerous awards, and she is proudest of the award to a multidisciplinary team, which Child and Youth Protection Center of Zagreb is awarded in the 2008 by ISPCAN (International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect) in the competition of 180 countries worldwide. Child and Youth Protection Center of Zagreb was  presented as an example of good practice and recognized as an institution that moves the standards of care of abused and neglected children.

“This award reflects the core of the Center’s work, because it highlights teamwork and multidisciplinary approache that are of great importance to us. There is another acknowledgment that I particularly appreciate, it was left by an anonymous child on our board in the waiting room. With all due respect, no official recognition can be measured with this …”, said Buljan Flander, pointing to the image she kept as the most valuable memory and a reminder that everything she doing is not in vain.

Recently she was awarded the Women of the Year 2018 in Croatia, which is annually award by magazine Zaposlena.

“This award for me is a confirmation of recognizing and evaluating long-term efforts and work. It means that there is less and less turning away from child suffering, and it is increasingly encouraging to see that we take responsibility for childcare at the level of society” said a modest psychologist. She completely won us by answering the question of what she would change if she would be able to live her life again:

‘I would not change a lot, I would even dare to say that I would not change anything. All experiences, all decisions, all the courage that could be madness, led me to the point where I am today, and because of which I am calm and happy. I just wish I could live one life more to achieve all I want, and certainly all that can not fit in one life. Fortunately, I believe in all the young people who work in Center and volunteer on Brave phone and that with their help the protection of children will advance in the next decades”, professor Gordana Buljan Flander pointed out at the end.”

Photographer: Matej Grgić/T portal


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