The Republic Institute for Social Protection and the Child Rights Centre (CRC) held their final conference in the Palace Hotel in Belgrade as part of the project “Promoting Positive Juvenile Justice System in Serbia”, which was financially supported by the European Commission through the Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme. The conference gathered representatives of the social protection system, justice system, schools, civil sector, academia and donor community.

Marko Todosić, Acting Director of the Republic Institute for Social Protection, opened the conference and expressed his hope that cooperation would be continued successfully on many other joint projects. In his address, he stated: “The specific goals of the project are focused on the development and implementation of innovative, effective programmes for work with children in conflict with the law, strengthening the capacity of experts in the systems of social protection and justice in order to act in accordance with the principle of the best interests of the child. I would like to thank all the partners and participants in the implementation of this important project. We are especially grateful to the representatives of the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs, the employees of the institutions for education of children and youth in Belgrade, Niš and Knjaževac, as well as our partners from the Child Rights Centre who selflessly shared their time, knowledge and experience in all phases of research and project implementation. We owe special thanks to the institutionalised children who shared their thoughts, feelings, wishes and visions of how the institutions in which they lived should look like in the future. We hope that all of us will have the opportunity to witness the positive changes achieved in the work with children subjected to custodial diversion measures.”

“Children in conflict with the law belong to one of the groups most exposed to stigmatisation in society and, precisely because of the numerous prejudices they encounter at all levels, they are often exposed to public criticism, especially in cases of committing serious crimes. We often forget that these are children who usually come from dysfunctional families and that their actions are the result of years of neglect and lack of support from early childhood. It is precisely for this reason that part of the activities carried out as part of this project were aimed at public awareness. In addition, the participation of children and young people from our organisation’s DX Club has been extremely important, both through their contribution during peer workshops conducted in the institutions for education of children and youth in Belgrade, Knjaževac and Niš, and through their participation in the awareness raising campaign”, pointed out Jasmina Miković, CRC Director.

Prof. Djuradj Stakić presented the findings of the research, stressing that the aim of the project was to encourage and direct the reorganisation and reconceptualization of all three educational institutions in accordance with international standards, relevant theoretical concepts and approaches, methodology and practice based on proven effectiveness in order to adapt the conditions and the way of working to developmental challenges, risks, needs and potentials of institutionalised children. Moreover, the project sought to correct the “injustice” against the educational institutions which, under the pressure of deinstitutionalisation, inclusion and the development of alternative measures for the treatment of children in conflict with the law in the community, were harshly criticised and left with depleted resources, on the margins of reform efforts, to deal with increasingly more complex and intense developmental challenges and disorders in children in conflict with the law.

Natalija Cvetković a DX Club member pointed out: “The children from the institution shared their experiences in contact with the police and judges, on the basis of which we concluded that they felt confused and were not sufficiently informed about their rights.” In addition, she said that they felt insecure when it came to further plans for the future.

Ljiljana Panjković from the Primary School “Branko Pešić” presented the results of the training programmes implemented in the institutions for education of children in Belgrade, Knjaževac and Niš and pointed out that it was important not to forget that some wonderful young people lived, grew and matured in all these institutions, and that some adults had played with their lives due to which they had to master the lessons of LIFE the harder way.

The conference participants also had the opportunity to watch the video “MAYBE”, which was created by the CRC to draw the public attention to the situation of children in conflict with the law placed in educational institutions in Belgrade, Niš and Knjaževac.

Finally, all the participants agreed that it was necessary to work on the development and implementation of innovative, effective evidence-based programmes for children in conflict with the law, to strengthen the capacities of experts in the systems of social protection and justice to act in accordance with the principle of the best interests of the child, to strengthen multisectoral cooperation through a multidisciplinary approach in order to respond to the needs of each child. In addition, they agreed that it was necessary to improve the participation of children in procedures that concerned them, through informing them about their rights and strengthening their knowledge and capacities.