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Online support to children as a response to “new normal”

Centre for support to children and family „Nest centre“, intended to children from 8-15 years of age, coming from multi-problem families, is a form of prevention and early intervention program. The centre aims to provide children lasting and permanent support, a safe and stable environment, and to help children to overcome the difficulties and challenges they face. Children have school support, educational workshops, creative, sports and other free time activities, same as their peers, growing in functional families. The standardized and focused methodology aims to strengthen the resilience, mutual support and participation of children. This approach allows individual follow up and direct work with children. The centre has been opened in the local community of Karanovac, with the approval and recommendation of the Centre for Social Work Banja Luka. The centre brings together between 20 and 30 children who come to the centre on daily basis. Children are selected in coordination and consultation with school teachers and parents who have given their consent.

The current situation with the corona virus puts additional pressure on dysfunctional families and families with limited parental capacity. It consequently puts children and young people at even higher risk, increasing the possibility of being exposed to violence and neglect. There have been major changes in children’ way of living due to a remote schooling, limited social distance with peers, resulting even in some emotional difficulties. The survey “Children`s voice on COVID-19 global pandemic“, conducted by World Vision in 13 countries around the world in March and April 2020, puts emphasis on three important factors that greatly change the lives of children and young people: (a) changes in school, (b) emotional distress due to social and physical distance (c) increase in poverty. Furthermore, 91% of respondents stated that they had difficulty coping with their negative emotions and anxious feelings, including anxiety, anger and concern about uncertainty about how long the crisis and isolation would last. While being in contact with children during this period, we came to the same observations. Therefore, cited findings emphasize the importance of continuation of our work and the need for this kind of remote interventions.

After closing the Centre, we started with online activities. Through several weekly meetings with children, we strive to reduce the effects of the new situation, to provide them with new, interesting, relaxing content, helping them to socialize, as well as the provide secure and support environment. In addition, all children have the opportunity to talk individually with the leaders of the centre, whenever they feel the need or when they are worried about something or have a problem.

The plan of online work with children has gone through several steps prior to the implementation: we have got the approval and parental consent for work with children, we have contacted and informed children about the new approach. Through communication with children, we agreed to divide the activities into three groups: free activities (relaxed conversation with children about current issues, that children are interested in), creative and educational activities. Meetings take place three times a week and last for 1 hour each. Before and after each online meeting, children indicate the current state of their feelings on the assessment scale with aim to monitor the emotional changes that occur in children during this period. Also, during each meeting, we have time to talk about how they feel, whether something worries them, how they spend their days, etc. So far children’s feedback about this way of work and support is extremely positive, the children really like new way of working, enjoy the activities that calm them, they are happy to be involved and send us drawing as well as their works every day.