Reforming Youth Welfare in Serbia

Regarding youth welfare in Serbia, a lot has changed within the last few years. A procedure of de-institutionalisation has been implemented, and as a result seventy per cent of the provision for children and young people has already been closed or converted into facilities for disabled people.FICE-Serbia has already been active as an NGO (non-governmental organisation) for many years. Under Zeljka Burgund’s dedicated guidance, FICE is supporting both the professional education of employees and the strengthening of contacts between youth welfare networks.

Training and Support

In cooperation with FICE-Netherlands, the project ‘Reform of Foster Care in Serbia’ has recently been completed. This has been mainly financed by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in its programme of supporting countries in transition. Hundreds of applicants as foster parents have been trained by the so-called ‘Pride’ method (Parenting Resources for Information Development Education). Apart from this, there has been a tenfold increase in the number of professional trainers and master-trainers who have been educated with the aid of the ‘Train the Trainer’ model.

This involves a standardised, structured framework for selection, based upon the competency, preparation and selection of foster parents, as well as foster parents’ continuous professional improvement through supervised practice. The interest shown in the training was so great that some people had to be disappointed, as it was only possible to take on a limited number of participants. Three members of the ministry and many people from social centres and youth welfare facilities participated. See (

Furthermore there was considerable interest in the creation of an organisation for foster parents – also part of this project. This organisation, which was regarded with mixed feelings, especially by the government, will pay heed to foster parents’ rights and interests. Currently, there are examples of impractical provisions which are still in operation, when they should actually be about providing proper support for foster parents, for instance by the creation of social centres. We observed the enthusiasm of those attending the foundation meeting and the active approach to work amongst the different work teams.

Family Group Conferences

A second component of this large project was the implementation of the so-called Family Group Conference Model.

What is a Family Group Conference?

  • A family conference is a formal meeting, which gathers the family and its social network together, with the aim of considering what should be done to solve the family problem, and what support is necessary.
  • The concept of family conferences can also be seen as a partnership between the family and the social care system. This includes making a safe plan for the family to solve its own problems, reviewing progress and acceptance by the case manager.
  • This model of support shifts the paradigm of social work practice towards the family (user-oriented practice) to work in a balanced partnership with social services.
  • The model includes independent coordinators as the main organisers of family gatherings (conferences) as well as in moderating conferences towards desired goals.

Anticipated benefits of Family Group Conferences

  • Strengthening the family as the basis for a healthy society, reducing the need for state intervention to a domain of family life
  • Strengthening the capacities of families to deal with their problem(s) and strengthening their ability to take responsibility, as it reduces the dependence of citizens on the care system
  • Prevention of more complex family problems
  • Prevention of institutionalisation of children and youth
  • The model of Family Group Conferences is based on using and involving social networks as supports to solve problem situations
  • Offering new possibilities – developing new social services
  • Economical model: save funds and time – (less work hours spent on cases, fewer professionals engaged)

This model is expected to be ideally practical within the frame of Serbia’s care support, in particular, when a foster child quits a family and a network surrounding the adolescent needs to be created.

Finally, the project’s effects and results:

Effects of the project

– Trained professionals (60)

– Trained and educated foster carers (400)

– Foster carers organised in their association

– Professionals educated to offer Family Group Conferences

Projects results

– Deinstitutionalisation

– Development of alternative forms of care for children without parental care

– Supporting citizens’ participation

– Shared responsibility of state and citizens for family problems

These results are complementary to the goals of the country’s social care reform.

Now the task is about realising the above mentioned results in Serbia!

Anton Tobé is President of FICE-Netherlands and Vice President of FICE-International.

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