The Protector of Citizens was hosted in the “Novo jutro” show on TV Pink.

We will continue the discussion with our guest in the studio, the Protector of Citizens. Not even 4 social welfare institutions reacted to protect two minor children of age 10 and 15 from Blace against the attempt of their relocation to foster family against their will. What does the protection against abuse and neglect refer to, which such services are obliged to provide? Who will have to take the responsibility for the scandalous omissions? What will the ombudsman do now and has the drama of many months finally got its outcome? These are the questions for the Protector of Citizens Zoran Pašalić. Good morning and thank you for being here. We have received the news yesterday that the Ethical Board of the Social Welfare Chamber suspended the director and psychologist of this center, Ivan P. and Ljiljana M. Ivan P. was suspended for six months with the prohibition of performing the activities from the scope of social protection whereas the psychologist is prohibited from the activities in the duration of three months. A progress has been made. You are to say it better how great this progress is, but another thing, are these punishments enough? We have seen those events and how it looked like. Exceeding of the authority, to say the least, isn’t it?

- I have never thought that the punishments are the ones that will make some essential change, but the ones who implement certain measures should start from the very beginning. Here we followed the events which are the outcome which has been going on since 2017.

But there had to be some, so to say, understanding, humanity.

- Certainly. The one who accepts to do this job first must have the empathy for the situation they oversee and deal with. That is the essence.

What have you confirmed so far as the Protector of Citizens?

- Look, dating back in 2017. It is the relationship between the spouses and mother, that is the mother of the father of these children, which culminated by the relationship between the mother, the grandmother of these children and their father. What is related to the media is, if we take that social networks are some sort of media, without the father’s consent the children were available to the public without any protection. That was the culmination of all these bad relations in the series since 2017. And then the decision was made to relocate the children from this family. Then we have that scene, in which children were relocated in the manner which really, that is there was the attempt to relocate them in the manner which was really inappropriate for treating children and their destiny at all.

How old are they, between 10 and 15 years of age. Can’t they decide if they want to live, for instance, with their grandmother?

- They can decide. Now, there is the question of objective perception of the situation. You cannot think in the manner those children think. You have to objectivize situation, to say if the conditions these children live in meet all the criteria. And not just if they meet, but if these children have normal development, schooling, education, doing some activities, work on the development of some talents if they have them. Not just to work, don’t think I underestimate that, some agricultural works, hard work. And that is the reason.

This grandmother, as we heard, is semi-movable. Also, they have to help her, which is good for the development of empathy with these children. But how much children can do that, in fact…

- Sorry to interrupt. The point is you cannot allow one thing to last for years so it culminates in this manner and attracts attention of the public. The problem should be solved initially. When it emerges, it should be solved within the shortest time span possible. 

That is exactly the question, why four social welfare institutions have failed to respond and solve that since 2017?

- It is not just about the social welfare institutions. There is the responsibility of school which did not initiate the misdemeanor proceedings against the father who neglected those children because they did not go to school. These are a series of omissions. There is what I have constantly emphasized, which is, you cannot observe one institution after another and now everyone transfers the responsibility to another institution. It is a series of institutions dealing with education of children, which deal with childcare, which deal with providing normal conditions for children and all of them should cooperate. If everyone looks only at their scope of work and how to do it, and eventually fails to do it, then you have a problem. This showed something. But there are such problems.

Transferring of the responsibility – it wasn’t me, they are not responsible, then we reach the situation which culminates and eventually something like this happens, which is the problem. Ok, we had this story now. Finally, we expect further outcome, don’t we? What is with the children now? Who will be responsible and where are the children at the moment? How do they live?

- The point is in this, they will be responsible, although we are not the court. As for the children, they are not, their status is regulated in the sense that they are practically accommodated in the foster family and it will be seen what will happen.

Alright. It is a temporary solution.

- That is correct. Now we are waiting for the decision of public institutions and these institutions competent for this case.

The manner of the implementation of this decision is the most appropriate for the development of these children and will probably be different from the thing we saw. We hope that. This is just about this manner and it seems about the ignoring of this solution.

- When you have the negligence and neglect of children, then I repeat, everyone needs to take part in solving of this problem and take their part of responsibility, that is the essence of every such case.

When it comes to children with disabilities, we discussed it already, in many of these institutions, negligence and neglect of these children, it is said that these situations occurred in many of them. What is the current condition compared to the previous one?

- The truth is somewhere in the middle. If you have negligence, as it was stated in the report, by individual employees of these institutions, there is on the other hand also the negligence of these children by those who by natural, biological laws should take care of these children.

We are talking about parents, relatives or someone connected to these children. Then there is the solution. Should the children be in the home, which is considered inappropriate. The tendencies are to accommodate children to a family they come from on the one hand. On the other hand, there are the cases in which some families refuse to take these children.

- They refuse, that is, believe that the home is an institution which will solve the problem of children, and to be honest, of them.

You said that the situation at homes should not be generalized, but to go from home to home and write down everything and see what the situation is in every of them. Have you proposed that, and will the visits finally be paid from home to home actually, because now we see and also now on front pages also the ones for the elderly, and especially if we are talking about children, is the situation unacceptable?

- You are mentioning the homes for the elderly.

I am saying both for the elderly and the young.

- The Protector of Citizens does not oversee directly the homes for the elderly, which I don’t think is a good solution. In the countries from the region you have…

And why is that so?

- That is the legal solution. And we are asking for its change. The reasons for that are, when you oversee something indirectly, then the question is if you have the right perception of it. As for the homes for children, we oversee them directly and it gives results. We are asking for the same for the homes for the elderly. For two most endangered categories in every society, and in ours as well, these are children and the elderly.

Do you think you can do something about it?

- I am convinced we can do it.

It is hard to read these headlines in the media, to see all that, negligence, neglect of children. Here we are reading about torture of the elderly at some homes. It somewhat, we can say, fits into the horror sphere of our social live. How true is that? Or isn’t?

- That is correct. I always distance myself from news headlines. I respect everything written, but the practice showed that in the majority of cases the information is not either absolutely true or not complete and then we get another image.

Did you go from home to home? What is the situation now and what if the home does not have adequate conditions?

- We cannot visit all homes in a week.

I didn’t mean you visited them all, but what is the situation in the ones you visited?

- It is changed because the media interest brought to that, and completely honestly speaking, those who were in a bad status, those managing these homes reacted swiftly in order to change this situation, to avoid being publicly shamed and in the public focus as some places where children suffer.

Here they talk about that, it is difficult to say what is true, home where the elderly were tortured. It was vacated overnight after a series of articles. It itself is for some services, perhaps not ombudsmen, protectors of citizens, but the Prosecutor’s office.

- No, that is for the ombudsman.

Yes, but it is for the prosecutor’s office, too.

- If there were some criminal acts, it is definitely for the prosecutor’s office.

There is a lot of work for you, we must say.

- There is a lot of work, but what can I tell you, we, all of us, literally spend this summer at work. And summer should be a situation which is not that dynamic. We expect at fall, if what is anticipated occurs, that things will heat up. Covid 19, and you see that most of us, I won’t say citizens, are completely relaxed.

Yes, that will be a problem. Thank you once again! And see you again.