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Croatia supports persons with disabilities, children and youth with community care

girl in a wheelchair being cared for by a carer in a specially adapted bathroom

The Ministry of Labor, Pension System, Family and Social Policy and the World Bank in Croatia are teaming up to better integrate into society Croatia’s more than 6,000 adults with disabilities, and children and youth who are living without adequate parental care or with behavioral problems. The two-year technical assistance project, Transition from Institutional to Community-based Care for Children, Youth and People with Disabilities in Croatia, seeks to move toward the provision of family based or community-based services for such individuals and away from Croatia’s current system of institutional care.  

Successfully moving away from institutional care requires the development of alternative community-based services, and the modification of existing services to make them more accessible and adaptable to all beneficiaries. This entails the provision of affordable housing in the community, access to public services, and personal assistance and peer support. It will also require significant changes in the staffing structure, work methods, and spatial conditions. This project will support social welfare homes, their residents and others using their services in the transition from institutions to the family environment, or independent supported living in the community.

“An active deinstitutionalization policy is one of the priority areas of the Croatian Government and of the social welfare system itself. The policy’s objective is to enable people who are still living in institutions to exercise their right to live in the community and to include them in the life of the community at an equal footing with others,” emphasized Marin Piletić, Minister of Labor, Pension System, Family and Social Policy. “With the physical relocation of a person deinstitutionalization is not completed, it has only just begun. Therefore, the increase in the accessibility and the quality of social services, and their standardization across regions remain reform priorities for Croatia. Alternative forms of living and provision of community-based services are not a privilege. They are fundamental rights of children, youth and persons with disabilities, as well as their parents.”

Through the implementation of the technical assistance project agreed by the Ministry and the World Bank, individual transformation plans will be developed for 38 public social welfare homes that do not yet have individual plans or have not yet started to transition away from institutionalized care. The project also plans to establish a system for monitoring the transition process with measurable indicators of results achieved.

“Today, it is almost universally accepted that being part of a community is essential for humans to thrive and that institutions are often restrictive and inappropriate for the people who live in them,” said Jehan Arulpragasam, World Bank Country Manager for Croatia.” The experiences of those living in a family environment or who use community-based services have shown that living in the community while receiving needed services can strengthen learning and skills, increase chances of employment, improve health conditions, and boost resilience. Perhaps most compelling is that both the people receiving services and the communities they reside in reported overall quality of life improvements.”

Nikica Sečen, Director of the Center for Community Services Izvor Selce, spoke about the Center’s deinstitutionalization and transformation and highlighted. “The process of transformation and deinstitutionalization of social welfare institutions gave us the opportunity to provide other services in the community. The overall process required parallel implementation of three activities: deinstitutionalization, transformation, and prevention of institutionalization while developing community-based services. Based on our extensive experience, we can conclude that these processes were absolutely justified because in our catchment area we noteed fewer cases of removal of children from their homes and each foster family continues to receive all the available support.”

Good practices of transitioning away from institutional care in Croatia were also presented at the conference, as well as the experiences of individuals who moved out of institutions and now live independently, fully integrated in the community. The project will be implemented until the end of 2024 and is co-financed by the European Union’s European Social Fund Plus (ESF+).

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