UNICEF and the European Commission Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations marked the conclusion of the two-year programme “Mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable children and families in the Western Balkans and Turkey” during a closing online event. Key benefits of the EU-UNICEF programme reached more than 450,000 families and children in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Türkiye.
“Childhood and growing up in the time of COVID-19 was put on hold while governments around the world looked for the ways to adapt policies and services in the context of the biggest health crisis in this century,” said UNICEF Europe and Central Asia Deputy Regional Director Philippe Cori. “Thanks to the support of the EU, UNICEF worked with partners in the Western Balkans and Türkiye to minimize the impact of this crisis on the most vulnerable children and families and to position children’s needs at the forefront of policy decision-making.”
The programme demonstrated the benefits of investment in the continuation and adaptation of essential services for families and children during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the countries of the region benefitted from research and evidence gathering for improved policy-making and systems strengthening through capacity building of professionals in the areas of health, child protection, education and early childhood development. Key results are policies, systems and services that can withstand future health crises.
“The EU places a very strong importance on the development of human capital. Now is the time to draw lessons from the tough circumstances of the last few years and ensure that real reform of the social systems is undertaken at the national level throughout the region,” said Hillen Francke, Head of Sector for Western Balkans Regional Programmes, Directorate General for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations.
Families and children in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia were supported through:
- Continuation of health services, including immunization, protection of breastfeeding and home visiting programmes
- Support for the mental health of children and adolescents through children’s helplines (the programme was also implemented in Türkiye)
- Improved mechanism for reporting and referral of children at risk of violence or in need of additional support
- Implementation of inclusive and contemporary education approaches that utilize digital technologies in teaching and learning
- Enhanced early childhood development services, including parental support through parenting application that reached more than 70,000 parents in Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Serbia with quality advice on health, caregiving, nutrition, early learning and child development
UNICEF and the European Commission Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations launched this two-year, €5.25 million programme (€ 5 million EU contribution), to strengthen national health, education, early childhood development, and child protection systems to ensure continuity in the provision of core services for vulnerable children and their families in the immediate and the longer-term recovery response to COVID-19. The initiative has been implemented in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Türkiye, and has reached more than 450,000 children and families.