"Creators of public policies to create conditions that will prevent children from being separated from their families and placed in institutions"

The executive director of NGO Juventas, Ivana Vujović, said that the key challenges are the insufficient number of services and professionals, especially in relation to improving the quality of family relationships, prevention of separation of children from the family, support in socialization, support in learning, support for improving physical and mental health, support for increasing competitiveness on the labor market and support in employment

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From the round table, Photo: PR Center
From the round table, Photo: PR Center
Disclaimer: The translations are mostly done through AI translator and might not be 100% accurate.

Public policy makers in all cities should create conditions that will prevent the separation of children from families and placement in institutions, it is necessary for professionals in that field to work in better conditions, as well as to create and adequately implement a good plan for the transformation of the Children's Home "Mladost " in Bijela.

This was announced by the PR Center at the round table "The situation of children and youth under institutional care in Montenegro", which was organized by the non-governmental organization Juventas within the project "Supporting the needs of children and youth under institutional care after the COVID-19 pandemic", which supported by the Delegation of the European Union in Montenegro.

The executive director of NGO Juventas, Ivana Vujović, said that the key challenges are the insufficient number of services and professionals, especially in relation to improving the quality of family relationships, prevention of separation of children from the family, support in socialization, support in learning, support for improving physical and mental health, support for increasing competitiveness on the labor market and support in employment.

"There is insufficient care for professionals in this field. The need to improve working conditions is obvious. Inadequate investment in post-exit support services, inadequate use of some existing resources in the previous period. It is necessary to introduce constant mentoring and peer support for young people after leaving the institution, so that they can more easily navigate the labyrinth of our system and get the necessary support more easily," Vujović pointed out.

He believes that local governments should play an even more productive role and be focused on the individual needs of children and young people.

"It is extremely important to make a good plan for the transformation of the Children's Home "Mladost" in Bijela and to adequately implement that plan, but it must not be in conflict with the needs of the children who are currently in the institution. "Stronger cooperation between institutions is needed in order to optimize resources and use expertise from the non-governmental and public sector and improve coordination and efficiency in the provision of social services," Vujović said.

The representative of the Delegation of the European Union, Mladenka Tešić, pointed out that the EU pays great attention to the improvement of inclusive, quality education in Montenegro and that it also finances a project with UNICEF that deals with the improvement of children's education, with a special focus on children with disabilities and Roma children.

"Within that project, a comprehensive strategy for the education sector will be developed. When we talk about inclusivity and access, only 53 percent of children attend pre-school education according to a 2018 UNICEF survey, and that percentage is even lower for vulnerable groups. Also, we know that 34 percent of children are at risk of poverty in Montenegro and that this greatly affects school attendance and learning outcomes," said Tešić.

She said that the results of the PIZA test are devastating and that children who are in a weaker socio-economic position lag behind children who are in a better position by 55 points, "and when this is transferred to the school years, they would be about one and a half school years behind".

The representative of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, Ana Marković, said that the ministry strives to improve the support that young people receive after leaving the institution, and that young people without parental care are given material security equal to the amount that a family of five achieves until the age of 23, or until jobs for more than half a year continuously.

"We provide one-time financial assistance, help in finding a job, accommodation, counseling services. I would like to mention the supported housing service, which is provided to a certain number of young people depending on their needs. We have two residential units in Bijelo Polje, three in Danilovgrad, and two in Podgorica where this service was provided until recently, and we will try to re-establish it," said Marković.

She added that the preparation of the Deinstitutionalization Strategy for the period 2024 to 2028 is underway.

"By creating and adopting this Strategy, the Government strives to improve the rights of children, young people, adults and the elderly. By applying the measures of the deinstitutionalization strategy, Montenegro will improve the provision of support to the families of Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to prevent the placement of children and young people in institutions. It is clear to the Government of Montenegro that investing in children and their development from day one is the basis for building a healthy society. "The Ministry will make maximum efforts to build a social protection system with a focus on children without adequate parental care," explained Marković.

The representative of the NGO Juventas, Marija Ružić Stajović, said that during the project, eight facilitators were hired to provide learning support to residents of the Children's Home "Mladost u Bijela.

"Facilitators provided learning support for 2022 primary and secondary school students for four and a half months in 2023 and four and a half months in 60. When it comes to children and young people from the Center for Children and Young People "Ljubović", we organized support in literacy, language and mathematics, but there were also other types of support. This activity included 23 children and young people," said Ružić Stajović.

During the project, as she stated, five wards from the Mladost Children's Home were professionally trained, and when it comes to young people from the Center for Children and Youth "Ljubović", various certified courses were provided for ten of them.

"We also provided psychological support in order to prevent professional stress and burnout syndrome at work for employees in the Children's Home "Mladost" and the Center for Young Children "Ljubović". This support was extremely important and 17 employees from both institutions used this service. Psychiatric support is very important for the Center for Children and Youth "Ljubović". We enabled the hiring of a child psychiatrist for a period of six months last year and six months this year," said Ružić Stajović.

Ana Maksimović on behalf of the Psychological Association of Montenegro, presenting the research, stated that, when it comes to the perception of challenges that young people face after dating, the key challenges are in terms of uncertainty of housing, employment, lack of budget management skills and lack of effective systemic support and discrimination .

"Experts have given certain recommendations, and they especially emphasize the networking of all relevant institutions. The focus group was conducted with 11 young people who are preparing to leave the Home between the ages of 16 and 18. When it comes to the available support, the conclusion is that now this support should be reflected in the acquisition of specific skills, and they cited the example of passing a driving test, or registering or deregistering the place of residence," said Maksimović.

The young people's suggestions, she said, are that it is necessary to improve the quality of relationships with important people in their lives, not only from the biological family, but also educators, professional workers, case managers and peers.

"The recommendation they gave explicitly is that it is necessary to invest in people," said Maksimović.

Most of the respondents, she added, have completed primary or secondary school and understand that they need more knowledge, skills, and information in order to gain a sense of security and belonging.

"There are many recommendations, but I would like to refer to the material ones, which is the provision of accommodation, housing and psycho-social-emotional empowerment of young people who have left institutions and those who have yet to leave," said Maksimović.

The representative of the NGO Juventas, Milica Simonović, stated that counseling services are available to children and young people at the "Youth" Home, but that it is held in principle, that is, it is not formalized due to a lack of staff.

"The types of services provided by centers for social work are assistance for life in the community, immediate intervention services, assistance in the form of material benefits, as well as assistance in collecting documentation and exercising certain rights with other authorities," said Simonović.

She said that there is an Office for Career Development and Lifelong Learning, which is a support service that serves to improve the competence of students.

"Given the fact that children who leave the system of institutional care are exposed to a greater risk of social exclusion, it is important that all public policy makers create conditions in all buildings of Montenegro, which will prevent social exclusion, and it is important that we have one institution that will refer children to all available services that exist, both in Montenegro and in the municipality they want to return to after institutional placement," said Simonović.

Marela Savić in front of the Children's Home "Mladost" assessed that the institution is a necessity and that it is not a good place to grow up, no matter how hard and dedicated you work.

"These children are vulnerable, and you can see that in the last year before their departure, they are anxious, nervous. We see changes in behavior, and we know very well that it is the fear of what awaits them when they cross the threshold of the institution. "We do everything that is our duty and more in the uls, where we have a big problem with the lack of professional workforce," said Savić.

In the last two months, as she said, four people left the "Youth" Home, all of them with high academic qualifications.

According to Savić, Montenegro lacks a health and social institution, as well as a department of psychiatry for children.

"I think that the institutionalization of children is not a good path and that we should do everything to achieve real deinstitutionalization, to provide services in the community," said Savić.

She concluded that sometimes the most important things are not material things, but support and that the state should recognize that.

Danijela Femić from Bijelo Polje Health Center agreed that families should be strengthened, and that placement in institutions is a necessity, and she added that a family-oriented early intervention was launched in cooperation with UNICEF.

"So far, 267 families have been covered under the combined model and 12 families under the intensive model. At the Center for Children with Special Needs, we provide support to all children, regardless of what challenges they face, or their parents, guardians, foster parents," Femić said.

She said they provide psychological, psychotherapeutic and psychiatric support.

"It is very important that we think about what to do next. What next when we write the opinion and whether it will remain only on paper or will be applied in the field. Our goal is to form a municipal team, when we have situations where we need to define support or assess the necessary measure that we can take as a health center or a kindergarten, or any institution that can help a child," Femić said.

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