Scaling up Impact: The case of Rastimo zajedno in Croatia

Through the Scale-up programme, the Croatian NGO partner, Rastimo zajedno (Growing up Together), has signed an agreement with the Croatian Ministry of Labour, Pension System, Family and Social Policy to make their programmes an “integral” part of the services provided by the state-run Family Centres.

Rastimo zajedno is The Human Safety Net’s NGO partner in Croatia since 2019. The organisation aims to support children by supporting their parents when exposed to adverse circumstances that make parenting and meeting the needs of young children difficult. Recently, Rastimo zajedno has signed a memorandum of understanding with The Croatian Ministry of Labour, Pension System, Family and Social Policy, in which they are partnering up on the Scaling up Impact of Rastimo zajedno/Growing Up Together programmes to expand Rastimo zajedno’s reach to all of the 21 Regions of Croatia through the empowerment of the national network of Family Centres.

The partnership with the Ministry was established already at the time of preparation of the application for the Scaling Up Impact grant in 2020, and the signature of the memorandum of understanding was one of the milestones in the project proposal. The idea for this partnership was built on the organisation’s already existing successful collaboration with some of the regional Family Centres. The concept was for the Scaling up Impact grant to take this collaboration to a national level and make Rastimo zajedno/Growing up Together programmes available to families throughout Croatia. This was a bottom-up initiative, since we already had established close relationships with some of the Family Centres, during the piloting that preceded the scaling up.

“The Scaling up Impact grant from The Human Safety Net helped us strengthen the evidence base for our programmes and establish them as part of the standardised services accessible in every region. It also helped us develop an innovative collaboration model between our NGO and public social services. (This is a precedent in Croatia because no organisation in the field of parenting support has this kind of cooperation with public institutions). Ahead of us are now steps to implement the memorandum, especially in the context of new reforms in the social sector,” explains Nina Pećnik, Chairwoman of the Board of Rastimo zajedno.

What are the Family Centres?

The Family Centres are public social services for supporting families, children, and youth under the authority of the Ministry of Labour, Pension System, and Family and Social Policy. During the Scaling up project, the organisation’s programmes have become standardised services that the Family Centres provide. The memorandum of understanding with the ministry regulates that these programmes must be accessible in every regional branch, and Rastimo zajedno provides training and support for implementation. With their activities and services, Rastimo Zajedno patches up the gaps in the public sector’s services and cooperates with social welfare centres that send their users to Rastimo Zajedno to participate in their activities. On the other hand, Rastimo educates and supports the Family Centres in implementing their programmes, thus providing better service (parenting support) to their users through the national system. The scaling up coincides with a critical moment of reform of the social system in Croatia. Family Centres are a relatively new service with a preventative development focus, so there was a commonality in their mission and ours. However, they were more engaged with helping families with school-age children, teenagers – while collaboration with Rastimo ‘pushed’ engagement towards the early years.

What programmes are we supporting with the Scale-up?

Growing Up Together - Count Us In (Rastimo zajedno i mi) is a programme for parents and their young children in adverse circumstances. It supports parents in exercising their parental responsibilities and promotes personal growth and the development of competencies of both parents and their children. It consists of 15 workshops with parents, aiming to enhance parents’ resources for positive parenting and a programme of workshops with their children (3 – 6 years old) that are run simultaneously to support children’s wellbeing and resilience. A joint parent-child play follows these workshops to strengthen parent-child secure attachment. Results reveal a significant decrease in parenting stress, an increase in parental self-efficacy beliefs, desirable interaction with the child, and a decrease in the frequency of shouting at and hitting the child.

Growing Up Together Online is an option for parents who cannot access the Growing Up Together – Count Us In. It consists of 10 workshops with parents in vulnerable conditions (engaged with the social welfare services). The evaluation of the pilot during 2020 and 2021 showed that participation increases general self-esteem, parental sense of competence, and parenting experience and morale.

Growing Up Together Goes On started in 2019 and is intended for fathers who live as separated parents (due to divorce). The purpose of this programme is to achieve positive developmental outcomes for children through strengthening the active parental involvement of fathers and the development of cooperative co-parenting of former partners. It is realised through eight educational workshops with fathers. The results show positive changes in the experience of parental responsibility, greater understanding of the child’s perspective, and positive changes in the support and cooperation of fathers with the former partner.

Growing up Together in a new family is intended for adoptive parents and adopted children. Rastimo Zajedno provides support to adoptive families, considering traditional parental challenges and tackling some specific issues. Caregivers can exchange knowledge and experience with expert group leaders and other parents. Through this process, they get to know themselves and their children better, try out new skills and seek answers through 11 workshops and online resources. Workshops with children are intended to strengthen children’s resilience and facilitate adapting to a new family. The joint activities are designed to help parents and children build a positive relationship and a sense of deeper mutual connection, strengthen the attachment of parents and children, and build their self-esteem and trust in themselves and others. Results indicate that an increased result follows the program participation in parental self-efficacy, parenting morale, and openness for communication about adoption and decreased parental stress.