"There were times when we literally had nothing, but children never said anything to anyone or went to ask for help on the street, to neighbours, to family. That’s how I taught them, not everyone needs to know about our situation. We were in a really bad situation, but I fought throughout and today I fear nothing, when I survived that, I can face any situation,” recalls Miroslava, mother of four from Banjaluka.
Today she and her children fare better as they receive support within their local community. They are beneficiaries of the Drop-in centre for street involved children and children at risk in Banjaluka, run by local NGO Nova generacija. The rocky years are behind them and her two youngest children, Veljko* (9) and Goran* (11) are fully benefiting from services in the Centre.
“Many don’t know how grateful they would be, how easier it would be to raise children with support like this, to have someone you can lean on. I feel my children are safer here than at home. At home, you never have enough time, you have things to do. When they are here, they are being looked after, they get help with school, improve their behaviour, learn about different things. Whenever my children asked for advice, they always got a good one here,” stresses Miroslava* about her children coming to the Centre on regular basis.
These days, the Centre mostly works with Veljko* and Goran*. One of their older sisters is now 18 and already has a boy of her own, a 2 year-old, and has left the family. Other sister, Lenka* (16) does not visit the centre as often as she used to, now she only comes for advice when she is in some kind of trouble.
“Veljko* and Goran* are involved because they generally had problems in behaviour, in accomplishing school tasks, underdeveloped social skills. They did not know how to maintain relationships with other children, often entered conflict situations in school. Today, with Veljko* and Goran*, we have accomplished great changes, they have changed their behaviour, there are less conflicts, they do not avoid school, they are regular at the Drop-in Center, and we really have a good relationship of trust with them so whatever happens, they come to us, both children and the mother,” explain Centre’s psychologist Sasa Risojevic.
The Centre’s staff still need to work with both boys to help them deal with aggression and other issues.
“To be good, that means I shouldn’t provoke other children or start a fight, I should tell my teacher when someone is provoking me. It means to do what you are told, to avoid making problems, to be a good friend,” describes Veljko* what it means to be on good behaviour.
Both Veljko* and Goran* are making progress on all accounts, with support from Drop-in centre staff. Their mother is now hoping to further improve their lives by moving to the country, where she wants to build a small family house, with farm animals and vegetables garden.
From non-governmental to institutional service
Drop-in centre for street involved children and children at risk in Banjaluka, managed by Nova Generacija, was established in 2011. Save the Children has been supporting its work ever since. At first, they started with basic services - a warm meal, place to have a bath, get clean clothes. Then they introduced workshops for children – preventive, educational and recreational. They further expanded their services with professionals such as psychologist, social worker and a teacher. Today, this is a well-developed model of best practice.
“A child is usually referred to us by the Social Welfare Centre, but they also come on their own or they are sent from schools or the like. We first talk to child and parents, and during initial assessment we create a personal development plan for that child, what activities he or she should take, and how often. And then we update that plan every three months,” explains Nova Generacija Director Jadranko Jankovic.
The Centre staff work hard to establish good relations with all stakeholders, thus making sure no child in need is left behind. After seven years of good cooperation with Banjaluka’s Social Welfare Centre, their services were institutionally recognized, representing another milestone on their road to sustainable delivery of services to children and families at risk. Namely, in 2018, Drop-in services were accepted as institutional services provided by Banjaluka’s Social Welfare Centre and City of Banjaluka through Nova generacija.
“Our story is one of the best examples of good practice where a specific service was included in the system. It’s a good service, as we needed something concrete to offer to our families. We identify a problem in a family, but then we need something to offer to them. In Drop-in centre they do many things that we cannot provide, because it is not possible at our level or we have no capacities,” says Drop-in centre coordinator on behalf of Social Welfare Centre Sanela Trivundza.
“Centre beneficiaries are mostly children at risk to become street involved children, to leave their families, to become victims of human trafficking, victims of exploitation by parents, victims of violence. It is important that this service is recognised, people trust us more now, as well as other institutions,” stresses Jankovic, adding that additional value is that many children, previously invisible to the system, are now included in different programs.
“They inform us about situation in these families, let us know if certain family is in urgent need of assistance, if specific family needs monitoring, they work daily with these children and can obtain information we normally wouldn’t have. Everybody gains with this, children and families, and all of this also resulted in smaller number of children being removed from their families and placed into care,” underlines head of department for working with families and children within Banjaluka Social Welfare Centre Ljubica Dorontic.
Banjaluka is the first local community in Republika Srpska that officially recognized and introduced the service of daily care for street involved children and children at risk. Positive experiences contributed to the adoption of the new Law on social welfare in RS that contains this particular service as one of the basic rights.
“The city of Banjaluka recognized the importance of the non-governmental sector very early, because we simply were not able to deliver all the services we wanted and for which there is a need in our local community, so we used the non-governmental sector as an extended arm of the system. The importance of the non-governmental sector for the City of Banjaluka is undoubtedly high, because the resources we have, which are rather large in comparison to some other local communities, are still not sufficient to meet all the needs,” emphasizes social policy expert associate in Banjaluka City Administration Drasko Valan.
City of Banjaluka allocated space for Drop-in centre and co-financed reconstruction works, together with Save the Children.
“We have signed a Memorandum on Cooperation with Social Welfare Centre in order to ensure long-term quality services to children and families in need. We are giving special attention to promoting the work of drop-in centres, where we help local governments and community members understand the benefits of these centres and ensure their long-term sustainability", says Save the Children in North West Balkans Director Andrea Zeravcic.
Save the Children currently supports seven drop-in centres - in Banjaluka, Bihac, Bijeljina, Brcko and Mostar in BiH, and Niksic and Podgorica in Montenegro.
*Names are changed in order to protect children’s identity