Do we hear what children tell us?
UNICEF presented the study ‘Let’s Respect, Include, Recognise: Situation Analysis of Children’s Participation in Croatia’ and invited everyone that works with and for children to greatly increase the involvement of children in decision-making that affects their lives.
The study shows that although child participation in decision-making processes in Croatia is well regulated legally it is inadequately used in practice and is not taught in university programmes that prepare experts to work with children. Although there is increasing inclusion of children formally in public policymaking procedures that are relevant to them monitoring mechanisms that would show how and to what extent children, particularly the most vulnerable, participate in these processes have yet to be introduced.
The first comprehensive analysis of child participation in the Republic of Croatia was conducted using a wide sample that included 23 legal acts, 40 scientific research studies, 47 study programmes and 8 practical examples of child participation. It provides a broad overview of the ways in which the opinion of every child in the fields of education, healthcare, the judiciary and social welfare is included.
In addition to the involvement of children the importance of involving all groups of children in decision-making processes was stressed by Ivana Milas Klarić, Ombudsperson for Children, Nada Zrinušić, Assistant Minister for Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy, and Valentina Otmačić, Head of the UNICEF Office for Croatia, and Ivana Jeđud Borić, from the Faculty of Education and Rehabilitation Sciences, the leader of the team of authors. Practical examples of participation were presented by children and young people from the Network of Young Advisors of the Ombudsperson for Children and the Association ‘Our Children’ from Opatija.
Valentina Otmačić said, “The best decisions concerning children are those we make together with children. Adults have life experience but children are the experts for present day childhood. Therefore, it is vitally important to create an environment in which adults and children will together think about the topics relevant to children. The child’s right to participate in decisions affecting him or her is guaranteed by national legislation but there remains a lot to be done to achieve full implementation of this right, particularly when it comes to the most vulnerable groups of children.”
The study presents children’s participation from the angle of all children, particularly the most vulnerable, through practical examples of the association ‘Play’, the Firefly Association and the Mali Dom Day Care Centre. The recommendations stemming from the analysis will be used as a starting point to raise awareness about the importance of children’s participation, to create a platform for exchanging knowledge and good practice, and to develop a model for including children in building our present and our future.