The Child Rights Centre (CRC) held a regional conference entitled “Positive Parenting and Child Protection in High-conflict Divorces”, which brought together a total of 111 experts from the social welfare system, judiciary, Institute for Mental Health, civil society, academia and donor community. On that occasion, the participants were informed about the most important tools and materials developed by the CRC for professionals in contact with children and parents in the systems of social protection and justice, with special reference to the publication “Children and Divorce – How to Support Children During and After the Divorce of Parents”, which aims to help professionals recognise, understand and support the best interest of the child in case of divorce.
“In order to allow children to be children, to live safely, play, learn, develop their full potential, it is necessary to enhance the commitment of all actors”, said Mateja Norčič Štamcar, Deputy Head of the European Union Delegation to Serbia, pointing out the importance of improving mechanisms for children’s participation in the process of drafting, adopting and monitoring the implementation of strategic documents.
“Children are victims of violence in every society where they are usually silent or distrusted”, said Gordana Čomić, Minister of Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue, and expressed satisfaction with the Ministry being a partner in opening a social dialogue aimed at reducing violence against children in all settings.
“All of us have a permanent task to keep children at the heart of all our joint activities in order to have a healthy family in the future”, said Milka Milovanović-Minić, State Secretary at the Ministry of Family Care and Demography.
“The voice of the child in proceedings must be heard”, said Nenad Vujić, Judicial Academy Director, and stressed the importance of training professionals in the justice system.
A child’s development is determined by the environment in which the child develops, and statistics show that most divorced marriages are with children. “Children of divorced families have lower emotional, behavioural and even academic achievements”, said Prof. Milica Pejović-Milovančević, PhD, stressing that all of us together should help children and parents go through this process as painlessly as possible.
In the two panels “Positive Parenting” and “Children and Divorce”, the professionals from Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina agreed that parents needed support, that it was necessary to improve cross-sectoral cooperation through focused education of professionals in contact with children and parents. “Parents need support. It is very difficult to be a parent nowadays. They need not to be judged”, considers Prof. Gordana Buljan Flander, PhD. There are many challenges accompanying modern parenting, and parents are put to the test every day. “The narrative of traditional family and social expectations to function in the old way continues to be dominant”, points out Assistant Prof. Vera Despotović, PhD, expressing her concern about the lack of sufficient specific support programmes that could respond to the modern parenting needs.
“The first meeting with a family should be more thorough because any wrong intervention may prolong the duration of high-conflict divorces”, said Attorney-at-Law Marija Petrović, pointing to the need for a more specific first diagnosis of the situation. It is very important to provide children with a safe environment and protect them from all forms of violence and abuse. “A significant number of children are exposed to emotional abuse and neglect in the process of high-conflict divorces”, said Prof. Gordana Buljan Flander, PhD. In such cases, the best interest of the child should particularly be taken into account. Medical Psychology Specialist Teodora Minčić agrees and points out that “the child should be heard, but it is up to psychologists and experts to assess which statement of the child is authentic”. Also, “it is important to remove the responsibility from the child by returning it to the adults and the system, to those to whom it belongs,” pointed out graduate pedagogue Jelena Subašić, an integrative psychotherapist for children and adolescents.
At the very end, the CRC presented recommendations for further action and mobilisation of key actors in the area of positive parenting and child protection in cases of high-conflict divorces. The main conclusion is that continuous and systematic education of experts in the area of child protection and parental divorce is necessary, particularly in cases of high-conflict divorce, along with systemic support to parents and mutual cooperation of all institutions relevant to child rights.
The regional conference “Positive Parenting and Child Protection in High-conflict Divorces” was held as part of the project Positive Parenting, implemented by the Child Rights Centre with the financial support of the European Union as part of the programme entitled the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights in Serbia. The project is financed by the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue.
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