The Deputy Protector of Citizens for children's rights, Jelena Stojanović, stated that it is necessary to further improve the protection of children and families in the area of social policy, first of all through changes to valid normative acts, professional trainings and an increase in the number of employees in centres for social work, but also through a change of image of these centres among the public.
“In the first place, amendments to the Family Law are needed to make it impossible for persons over 16 to marry with the approval of the court. Also, the Law on Public Order and Peace should be amended, which currently does not exclude the responsibility of a child for participating in begging and does not recognize the status of a child as a victim involved in these activities”, stated Stojanović at the conference “Festival of Rights and Social Protection 2023” in Leskovac.
At the gathering, organized by the Social Protection Chamber and the Association of Lawyers in Social Protection “Argument”, Stojanović stated that the restrictions on employment in centres for social work that were in force, the failure to establish all centres for family accommodation and adoption at full capacity, the absence of social health institutions and uneven financing of personal companion services, all had negative consequences on the provision of services to families and children.
Another challenge in realizing children's rights is the insufficient number of professional workers in centres for social work, which is a consequence of the employment ban that was valid until recently, as well as the outflow of professional staff, while at the same time, the number of activities and beneficiaries of services on various grounds is increasing, Stojanović said, adding that this kind of situation affects the behavior of employees, but also the omissions that occur in procedures that reach the Protector of Citizens.
“Regulations on employment restrictions have had a negative impact on the development and availability of services in the field of social protection, when it comes to children. We have also determined that workers in social protection need to be provided with appropriate training to strengthen the professional capacities of institutions and professionals in social protection”, said Stojanović and reminded that after the recommendation of the Protector of Citizens, at the beginning of 2021, the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs secured the consent of the Government of the Republic of Serbia for the employment of 187 new professional workers.
The Deputy Protector of Citizens also stated that the media image of social protection institutions is unfavourable and that citizens often do not trust them, especially when there is no reaction from the centres in cases that receive the attention of the media, and that they need to improve trust in them with their work and communication with the public.
“A few years ago, a case arrived at the Protector of Citizens which received huge attention in the media. The media influenced the public opinion, which led to an increased pressure of the public on the competent institutions, even though that same public was not fully aware of the situation. The media, by reporting on this case on a daily basis, influenced the creation of the public opinion towards the work of social welfare institutions, and created a negative attitude towards foster care, which is seen as a way of earning money and not as a form of care for the child, which occurs in extreme situations, when the child is at risk", Stojanović said.
Stojanović announced that the Protector of Citizens will continue to continuously and with great attention monitor the work of all competent state bodies and institutions responsible for the protection of children's rights and will urgently react to all their failures in their work with the aim of providing children with the highest degree of protection of their rights and interests.