Neven Ricijas
University of Zagreb
Faculty of Education and Rehabilitation Sciences
Department for Behavioral Disorders
Tihana Novak
University of Zagreb
Faculty of Education and Rehabilitation Sciences
Department for Behavioral Disorders
19–25 June 2005, Dubrovnik, Croatia



Currently human rights are emphasized as a basic value for every person, and with the goal of protecting those rights many international documents have been ratified and many different laws developed. All of us, and especially institutions responsible for the upbringing, education and development of children and youths, have an obligation of advocacy for children’s rights. In other words, advocacy can be understood as pleading for the rights of children in order to create conditions for their positive development and so that they can reach their own potential.


Social pedagogy, especially in Croatia, includes work with children and youths, with behavior/conduct disorders, and those who are at risk of developing these. Therefore, it is the obligation of social pedagogues to advocate on behalf of children and youths at risk, or those with developed behavioral disorders, regardless of the social context and field of work the social pedagogue specializes in, e.g. social welfare, education, police, juvenile justice system, health care, etc.


Mechanisms for protecting children’s rights and interests are defined by constitution, different laws, conventions, and documents which should represent the basis for all interventions that involve children and youths. However, the practice leads us to the conclusion that the care and protection system for children and youths with behavior disorders is often burdened with many problems, such as slowness, late interventions, lack of different kinds of intervention, etc.


This article aims to reconsider the condition, possibilities and perspectives of advocacy and empowerment in social pedagogy through work in the governmental sector.


Keywords: advocacy, empowerment, social pedagogy, behavioral disorders

Pedagogical commitment of today’s parents and the duty of social pedagogy is to help them raise ‘a young person for an independent and critical attitude towards modern society, as well as all its dangers and failures, and to empower him for creating his own lifestyle’

(Marburger 1987)


During the last 15 years the Republic of Croatia has undergone significant political and social changes that have impacted on every aspect of life, as well as social policy making. Especially, the Croatian Independence War and transition process has had a significant impact. In this respect, the process of democratization has special importance. General social democratization has important implications on many levels. New political structure has also defined new legal acts that have had impact on social policy making as well as social practice. Therefore changes in the social system have consequently led to the development of new interests in social pedagogical practice – there are new circumstances and the need to act upon wider social needs, there are new knowledge resources, foreign experts and organizations, and new professional approaches, models and methods.


Pluralisation has resulted in different experts dealing with the same problems – sometimes co-operating as a team, and sometimes dealing with the same subject without regard to their profession.


Differentiation (i.e. increase of social, economical differences) is typical of the transition process. Important changes have taken place within the stratification system, as well as changes in the status of social pedagogy as profession. It can be assumed that this has had a certain influence in terms of considerable abandonment of the profession and growing dissatisfaction. There is differentiation among experts. There are cognitions that during the first years of transition in Croatia there was a wave of people leaving the social welfare profession and the best experts moved to work non-government organizations or other professions, while traditional workplaces for social pedagogues, especially in institutions, became workplaces for other professionals (not necessarily for professionals from mental health professions).


Europeanisation, as another process taking place in transition countries, includes acceptance of European standards and gives more opportunities for international co-operation in specific areas. In the areas of work of social pedagogues in Croatia, control was first established over standards which were insufficient for various reasons, which resulted in decreased possibilities for good co-operation with foreign experts, including integration with European professional associations.


When we talk about areas of social pedagogical work, privatization in Croatia can be connected with the establishment of international non-government organizations. Initially, in its early phases, privatization provided new work areas, new forms of co-operation with international communities, and new kind of material security. International standards brought new obligations and responsibilities that resulted in better work quality evaluations. The founding of Croatian professional associations and private organizations was possible, but not easy in the beginning. Nevertheless, today there are hundreds of professional associations that provide additional support in the political and social system, which were enabled by better legal acts that gave more opportunities to professionals. With regard to the area of social pedagogical work, one question still remains open, namely what is the legal likelihood and what are the real chances for creating private initiative, and therefore partial privatization of state institutions (Zizak & Sucur 1999).


The development of social-pedagogical theory and science in Croatia has been followed since the 1960s. Defining identity, content and professional work space, as well as new scientific disciplines has been a great task in this development (Uzelac 1999). Scientific establishment of identity develops through research that has specific focus on:

  • etiology and phenomenology of behavioral disorders

  • treatment of children and youths with behavioral disorders or who are at risk

  • treatment of adults in penitentiary institutions

  • prevention of behavioral disorders and early interventions

Research and knowledge in the area of etiology and phenomenology were initiated to better understand specific populations of children, youths and adults with behavioral disorders, in order to improve their direct treatment. Today, the disadvantages of institutional treatment become more and more visible, and hence the need for better treatment evaluation. Action research and treatment evaluation are designed to answer many questions and establish new treatment-therapy models. Modern theories and research concentrate on early interventions and the prevention of behavioral disorders (Basic et al. 1999).


Today, social pedagogues are present in many professional sectors: the social welfare system, educational system, police, justice system, non-government organizations, etc. In the affirmation of social-pedagogical science and the profession, the following are of special importance:

  • include social pedagogues into numerous advisory bodies and work groups in governmental sectors that concerned with the creation and implementation of different national programs

  • include social pedagogues in the creation of legal acts concerning children, young people and adults

  • employ social pedagogues in state administration bodies and other institutions of executive authority

  • further employment of social pedagogues in social and educational institutions

  • participation of social pedagogues in numerous Croatian and international professional projects (Uzelac et al. in press)

Social pedagogues in Croatia are present in all sectors of interventional measures and activities of society aiming to improve the development of children and youths with behavioral disorders or who are at risk of developing disorders, and also their successful social integration, mainly as a part of the state structures. In these institutions, social pedagogues have a relatively clear position and function, but there is a large working area that is still not covered because children, young people and their families have many different needs that are not included in today’s programs (Koller-Trbovic 1999).


The specific task of social pedagogy – the treatment of children, youths and adults with behavioral disorders and/or delinquent behavior is being realized in increasingly larger areas – from the individual treatment approach to different activities at a wider social level (from biopsychosocial individual needs to social politics).


The broad subject range of social pedagogy shows the dynamics of modern society – fast changes, more complex social demands on individuals, more and more different needs, and different groups for professional help and support. In this article we concentrate on the position of social pedagogy regarding advocacy and empowerment of children and youths with behavioral disorders. Accordingly, we define the task of modern social pedagogy as education, social learning, advising, providing help and support for the development of children and youths (prevention), as well as treatment of children and youths with behavioral disorders.



As mentioned above, social pedagogy in its focus and interests deals with children and youths that show different risk behaviors, those at risk of developing such behavior, and also children and youths with already developed behavioral disorders. In this respect, the term developed behavioral disorder is often equated with juvenile delinquents (perpetrators of criminal offenses), although there are different understandings of the term.


With no wish to start a debate about notional determinations and definitions, in this article we will accept some of the current definitions of scientists in the area of social pedagogy. Thus we can use the term ‘at risk’ to describe children and young people who have many difficulties, varying from being exposed to prenatal stress, poverty, maltreatment, and parental death to school failures, juvenile pregnancy and delinquency, and that what ‘leads’ them into further risky behavior (Basic & Feric 2004). It is clear that the level of risk, i.e. the level or behavioral risk of certain children and/or young persons, can vary, which Drayfoos (1997, cited in Basic & Feric 2004) describes as low, medium, high, and very high risk levels. This continuum includes children and young people with minimal risks compared to those who already show many behavioral disorders and are known to be serious committers of criminal acts. Today we know that the behavioral disorders of children and youths in most cases develop gradually – from mild, less obstructing and usually less visible, to more difficult, more visible and dangerous disorders, although exceptions from this rule are possible (Koller-Trbovic 2004).


Defining the term of behavioral disorders, Uzelac (2004) concentrates on the heart of the matter, emphasizing the substance of the term. Accordingly, he indicates behavior which:

  • deviates from a wide range of normal behavior of young people in certain environments

  • presents noxiousness for an individual and/or his environment

  • signifies a need for additional professional help.

Although other authors have also analyzed degrees of behavioral disorder in order to classify the phenomenon better, we conclude that it is clear even from this short description of terms of risky behaviors and behavioral disorders that we are dealing with behavior that needs professional and/or social intervention on all levels:

  • primary preventive activities (universal prevention, investment in quality of living)

  • secondary prevention (certain preventive activities towards populations at risk)

  • tertiary prevention (certain activities towards treatment of certain phenomenon)

  • post-treatment


The entire system of interventions, actions towards children and youths, and definitions and protection of their rights are defined in most cases in the constitution, different Acts, sub-Acts, and on an international level in conventions, recommendations and protocols.


In October 1991, the Republic of Croatia signed and ratified the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, thus assuming all the responsibilities resulting from the Convention, which relate to the implementation of the Convention and the obligation to amend and harmonize the existing legislation with this international legal document (Hrabar 1995). The Convention includes universal standards that must be guaranteed for each child by each country that is party to the Convention. It primarily deals with the obligations of adults towards children, as well as the obligations of numerous social entities with regard to the protection of children. This is the first document to treat the child as a subject with rights, and not just as a person who needs certain protection.


The Convention on the Rights of the Child is a legal act that bears legal force and gives the parties the obligation to abide by its provisions, and also provides for the right to monitor its implementation in the countries that have accepted and ratified it. In other words, the content of the Convention must be implemented in legal acts. The system of monitoring the realization of children rights in a practical sense gives information on (dis-)satisfaction regarding the child’s needs, and this information should be used for the further promotion of children rights (Selak-Zivkovic 1999). Mechanisms for monitoring are organized within the governmental system, but the non-governmental sector also monitors the implementation in a complementary manner.


The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia (2001) defines that international documents which are concluded and ratified in accordance with the Constitution and which are published, constitute an inner rule of law of the Republic of Croatia, and in a legal sense rule above the acts (Article 140). This provision clearly defines the strength and the importance of international conventions for creating different legal acts.


The Convention on the Rights of the Child represents the most widely accepted and the most important global agreement that recognizes and protects children’s rights (the Convention defines children as persons between 0 and 18 years of age). Therefore it is logical that the Convention, in its widest sense, defines the rights of children (and youths) with behavioral disorders.


Another important convention is the Council of Europe’s Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of 1950, which the Republic of Croatia signed on 6 November 1996, and which came into force on 5 November 1997.


Bouillet (in press) gives a complete overview of the international conventions ratified in the Republic of Croatia, which include the rights of children and youths with behavioral disorders, and concludes that in 12 United Nations conventions, 2 conventions from the International Labour Organization, and 15 conventions from the Council of Europe have been enforced1.


For children and youths with behavioral disorders recommendations and declarations for the prevention of juvenile delinquency are of great value – a point which is elaborated by Bouillet (in press) – as well as those that include procedures for juvenile offenders. In defining a specific act that provides all sanctions for juvenile offenders (The Act on Juvenile Courts), as well as all procedures, the Croatian legal system has followed the international standards of the United Nations and the Council of Europe with regard to the conduct of the justice system in relation to juveniles (Ricijas in press). These include:

  • UN Convention on the Rights of the Child from 1989

  • United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice from 1985, (The Beijing Rules)

  • United Nations Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency from 1990 from 1990 (The Riyadh Guidelines)

  • Minimal Rules for the Protection of Youngsters Deprived of their Liberty (The Havana Rules)

  • Recommendation No. R (87)20 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to Member States on Social Reactions to Juvenile Delinquency

  • Recommendation No. R (88)6 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to Member States on social reactions to juvenile delinquency among young people coming from migrant families

  • Recommendation No. R (92)16 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to Member States on the European Rules on community sanctions and measures

The professional activities of social pedagogues cover a wide spectrum, which gives them the opportunity to be employed in different governmental sectors, as well as in non-governmental organizations. Therefore it is very important for social pedagogues to have knowledge of the many different legal acts.


Important Acts for social pedagogues (working with children and youths) are the:

  • Family Act (Official Gazette, No. 116/03, 17/04)

  • Social Welfare Act (Official Gazette, No. 73/97, 27/01, 59/01, 82/01, 103/03)

  • Criminal Code (Official Gazette, No. 110/97, 27/98, 129/00, 51/01, 111/03, 105/05)

  • Criminal Procedure Act (Official Gazette, No. 62/03)

  • Act on Juvenile Courts (Official Gazette, No. 111/97, 27/98, 12/02)

  • Misdemeanors Act (Official Gazette, No. 88/02, 122/02, 187/03)

  • Act on the Protection Against Family Violence (Official Gazette, No. 116/03)

  • Act on the Suppression of Drug Abuse (Official Gazette, No. 107/01, 97/02, 163/03)

  • Act on the Protection of the Mentally Disturbed Persons (Official Gazette, No. 111/97, 128/99, 79/02)

  • Act on the Ombudsman for Children (Official Gazette, No. 96/03)

  • Primary Education Act (Official Gazette, No. 69/03)

  • Secondary Education Act (Official Gazette, No. 69/03)

It could be said that some laws are essential for the professional activity of all social pedagogues, while the importance of other Acts is defined by the particular sector in which the social pedagogue is employed.



The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia (2001) in Article 4 defines that the Government in the Republic of Croatia is organized on the principle of separating powers into three branches: legislative (the Parliament), executive (the President of the Republic; the Government), and judicial. This principle of separation also includes mechanisms for cooperation and mutual verification of work in accordance with the Constitution and different legal acts.


Within the sector of legislative authorities (Croatian Parliament), the following bodies, among others, deal with issues regarding children and youths with behavioral disorders. These are: (1) the Committee on the Family, Youth and Sports; (2) the Education, Science and Culture Committee; (3) the Committee on Labor, Social Policy and Health; and (4) the Committee on Human Rights and Rights of National Minorities.


In 2003 the Act on the Ombudsman for Children came into force, and therefore the Republic of Croatia established a separate monitoring body, a sui generis institution, that protects, follows and promotes the rights and interests of children, based on the Croatian Constitution, international documents and acts2. The Ombudsman for Children is an institution which, in all countries with a developed democracy, has a function to ensure fast, flexible, cheap, and efficacious legal recourse for any violation of human rights, and should warn about the mistakes and imperfections of the governmental administrative system (Horvat 2000).


The Croatian Parliament monitors the work of the Ombudsman for Children (Bouillet in press), but the important characteristic of ombudsman is that he/she acts independently, adhering to the principles of justice and morality; no one is allowed to give him/her instructions or order his/her work, and he/she and his/her deputies must not belong to any political party or take part in political activities2.


From the executive authority sector (the Government), five ministries form the core for social pedagogues in practice:

  • Ministry of Health and Social Welfare

  • Ministry of Education and Sports

  • Ministry of Interior Affairs

  • Ministry of Justice

  • Ministry of Family, Veterans’ Affairs and Intergenerational Solidarity

The role of social pedagogues in different ministries is defined with the particular sector that social pedagogues work in and with specific description of their workplace. It is important to emphasize that social pedagogues work in all of the above-mentioned ministries within the whole administrative hierarchy – from ministries to institutions that work directly in practice in local environment.


All those ministries have specific ways to advocate and empower children and youths. Yet it could be said that in the sector of social policy making (especially for children and youths), the Ministry of Family, Veteran’ Affairs and Intergenerational Solidarity probably has the largest responsibility. This Ministry is organized through the following departments and sections3:

  1. Department for Family

    1. Section for Family

    2. Section for Children and Youths

    3. Section for Physically Disabled Persons

    4. Section for Documentations, Journalism and Librarianship

  2. Department for Veterans’ Affairs

  3. Department for Intergenerational Solidarity

  4. Department for Captive and Missing Persons

The following list highlights just a few of the responsibilities of the Ministry of Family, Veterans’ Affairs and Intergenerational Solidarity which are important for social policy making3:

  • creating suggestions for different legal acts from the domain of the Department

  • improving management of institutions from its domain

  • conducting affairs related to the promotion of family values

  • stimulating establishment of the family fond

  • stimulating and establishing family centers, counseling centers and mental health services

  • stimulating and suggesting measures for suppression and solving family violence

  • evaluating and studying programs and projects of associations oriented towards child, youth and family welfare, as well as the welfare of physically disabled persons

  • stimulating development of non-institutional care

  • organizing the education of professionals who work with children and youths, physically disabled persons and their families and also conduct supervision

  • monitoring different rules and payment of child allowance, etc.

In order to ensure better quality implementation of different legal acts, the Government of Croatia also has advisory bodies which are important for advocating and empowering children and youths (with behavioral disorders) and for creating better quality in social policies. They also provide professional discussion about the areas of timely interventions in the interests of children, especially those that live in socially high-risk environments.


Advisory bodies for issues regarding children and youths, including those with behavioral disorders are the:

  • Council for Children

  • Commission for the Prevention of Behavioral Disorders and Protection of Children with Behavioral Disorders

  • Counsel for Youths

  • Commission for the Prevention of Drug Abuse

  • Commission for Human Rights

  • National Committee for Suppressing Trafficking

  • National Committee for Development of Volunteerism

  • Commission for HIV-AIDS

These advisory bodies have representatives from the governmental bodies, non-governmental organizations, professionals, and others who directly work with the implementation of social policies aimed at protecting the rights of children and youths. For the purpose of this article we will mention in more detail the work of two advisory bodies that have a significant role in promoting, advocating and empowering children and youths – especially children and youths with behavioral disorders. The Government of Croatia explicitly regulated that these two advisory bodies must have their representatives from the Faculty of Education and Rehabilitation Sciences, at the University of Zagreb – the faculty that educates future social pedagogues.


The Council for Children is responsible for continuous monitoring of the implementation of the National Program of Action for Children and for the coordination and harmonization of work of state administration and other bodies in their implementation of planned and measured activities as set out in National Program. In order to realize its task, the Council for Children especially4:

  • studies, monitors and analyses the Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as all the other documents relating to children’s rights

  • debates on the different recommendations of legal acts and other documents that are important for children’s rights, and makes suggestions for legal changes to the Government and relevant ministries

  • monitors implementation of all legal documents regarding children and makes suggestions to the Government on how to improve work and practice in institutions that are relevant for the protection of children’s rights

  • makes suggestions to the Government and other significant bodies on how to finance certain programs that are important to children

  • studies national programs for children in other countries

  • co-ordinates committees and other professional bodies responsible for realization of the National Program of Action for Children

The Commission of the Government of the Republic of Croatia for the Prevention of Behavioral Disorders and Protection of Children with Behavioral Disorders provides expert support in discussions and decision-making processes regarding all issues relating to the field of timely implementation of necessary measures that are in the best interests of the children and youths with behavioral disorders and those who live in high-risk conditions. When executing its tasks, the Commission5:

  • studies, monitors and analyses high-risk factors causing the occurrence of the behavioral disorders in children and youths

  • monitors the occurrences of juvenile delinquency, the implementation of activities and measures for the suppression of the juvenile delinquency, and carrying out legal protection of children and youths

  • gives expert opinion and proposes the measures for the suppression and diminution of the impact that negative factors have on the development, mental health and behavior of children and youths

  • studies different legal acts and gives professional opinion on improvements in legislation

  • proposes different ways of protection, socialization and rehabilitation of children and youths with behavioral disorders and gives guidelines for creating better networks of welfare factors

  • co-operates with different ministries, governmental and non-governmental organizations, scientific institutions, and international bodies, etc.

On the basis of the obligations assumed from the World Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of Children and the Plan of Action for the Implementation of the World Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of Children in the Nineties, the Government of the Republic of Croatia adopted on 1 October 1998 the National Program of Action for Children in the Republic of Croatia6. This National Program applies to children from birth to the age of 18, and its basic goal until 2005 was the improvement in the quality of meeting the needs of children in all fields of life, providing for suitable conditions for the appropriate growth and development of children in extremely difficult circumstances, and enabling gifted children to express and fulfill their capabilities and talents. The document defined the goals and activities for the fields of action recommended in the Action Plan.


Governmental advisory bodies, together with relevant ministries, have designed very few national programs to promote and ensure the status of some target population in society, while the implementation of these measures is confined to governmental institutions, regional and local environment, scientific and professional institutions, non-governmental sectors and other social sectors (Bouillet in press). Bouillet also mentions that in addition the National Program of Action for Children, Croatia has adopted the following national programs since 1995:

  • National Program for Suppressing Drug Abuse

  • National Program for Education on Human Rights

  • National Program for Actions for Youths

  • National Program Against Poverty

  • Prior Activities for Children Welfare

  • National Program for Suppressing Violence, etc.

It should be mentioned that in 2004 the Government of the Republic of Croatia adopted the Program of Activities for Prevention of Violence among Children and Adolescents as well as the Protocol on Proceeding in Cases of Violence among Children and Adolescents7 after recognizing growing problems of violence, especially among young people.


The Program of Activities for Prevention of Violence among Children and Adolescents features a series of short-term and long-term measures, including bearers designated to implement such measures, the implementation of which is required to be systematically and constantly monitored (and which has been done since implementation). The purpose of the Program is to raise the awareness of experts, parents, children, and youths regarding the problems of violence among children and adolescents, as well as to alleviate and eliminate the consequences of violence.


The significance of the Protocol on Proceeding in Cases of Violence among Children and Adolescents is mainly seen in the exactness of the definition, which includes the forms of conduct among children and adolescents that are considered to be violent. Further, the value of the Protocol is specifically contained within the precisely stated obligation of the bearers regarding the manner, type and scope of their actions in cases of peer violence. This will undoubtedly, in its wholeness, eliminate and erase various ambiguities and doubts that existed in relation to the definition of the phenomenon and the adequate actions to be taken, and it represents a response to the phenomenon of violence among children and adolescents. In this sense, the Protocol will be a valuable and significant guide and aid for experts and competent authorities in protecting children against peer violence.


5.1. Social pedagogues within the educational system

Apart from the family, the school is the institution that should be most important in the education and growth of children. Everyone has the right to and duty to undertake elementary education, which is why the school has an important part in representing children in the widest sense of primary prevention and in particular cases when families fail to achieve their role to their full potential. It is important that the school is a place where children feel accepted, esteemed and protected, and where they will be happy to spend time and be able to talk about problems and receive necessary help and support for their problems (Balic et al. 2003).


The work schedules of professional associates and social pedagogues in elementary schools (as constituted in the guidelines set down for elementary school education) consists of:

  • direct work with pupils with behavioral disorders or who are at risk

  • work with parents

  • co-operation with centers for social welfare, primary health service centers, centres for education, and other institutions providing for children and adolescents with behavioral disorders

  • creating one-year plans and programs of work with pupils (groups and individuals), co-operation with teachers and professional associates, and evaluation of programs (Ciperman et al. 1999)

Today, special emphasis is put on the importance of education for human rights as well as education for development. In Croatia, the National program of education for human rights was introduced in 1999. This program aims to highlight the importance of experience learning, games and co-operation in education, and to teach children about their rights and ways to protect those rights (Balic et al. 2003). As part of this program, social pedagogues have many opportunities to advocate on behalf of children and to empower them.


The future of any society is determined by today’s care for children and adolescents. Knowledge, skills, ways of thinking, and the values which children acquire during growing up will influence not only the forming of their lives but also the development of the social community in general. Therefore not only the kind of education, but also the help, support and protection of children, adolescents and their families receive are very important (Males 2000). Social pedagogues in schools have an important role in the realization of these goals.


5.2. Social pedagogues in police


During the childhood, parents interfere in the interface between their child and the legal system. In adolescence that relation becomes more direct and this creates a space for social pedagogues to work (Cajner-Mraovic & Ivanusec 2001). The Communications Forum (1999) states that in modern society the police as state institution has at its disposal very powerful and efficient means of protecting (but also preventing) human rights, including children’s.


One of basic tasks of specially trained police officers in Croatia (Balic et al. 2003 according to Strmotic 1999) is recognizing behavior and incidents which endanger the education, development and mental health of children and adolescents, registering those occurrences, taking action in their official capacity, making reports, and informing other services, institutions and corporations.


The Croatian police service is organized so that the tasks of fighting against juvenile delinquency and criminality is accomplished by police officers in special units, namely sectors for fighting against juvenile delinquency under the Ministry of Interior Affairs and in police administrations. It is believed that is important that the way police work with persons under age is balanced against satisfying criminal-political and social-pedagogical reasons for the existence and use of the Act on Juvenile Courts (Balic et al. 2003).


However, there is a need for developing a model for better inter-departmental and professional co-operation that would help police officers and officials from the system of social welfare system to accomplish better results together in the fight against juvenile delinquency, as well as offenses against children and adolescents (Cajner-Mraovic 2001). In this respect, a large space is opened up for the work of social pedagogues as representatives of children, adolescents and young adults.


5.3. Social pedagogues within the social welfare system


It can be confidently said that institutions of social welfare have an important role in advocating the rights of children and youths. In this respect we will emphasize the position of social welfare institutions working with children and youths with behavioral disorders, with special emphasis on the role of social pedagogues.


The Act on Social Welfare, in Article 79, defines that institutions of social welfare are the:

1. Croatian Institute for Social Work

2. Centers for Social Care

3. Social welfare homes

4. Centers for assistance and care

Social welfare activities, by the same Act (Article 78a), can operate in:

1. Social welfare institutions

2. Religious communities, associations (NGOs) and other legal persons

3. Foster families

4. Family homes

5. Natural persons (as part of their professional activity)

6. Administration bodies of units of local and regional self-government8

One of the important activities of centers for social welfare is to advocate the rights of children when they are threatened. This mostly happens within the child’s primary environment, i.e. within their families. Therefore, when parents show a serious lack of adequacy in their parental duties, a center for social care can take responsibility for representing a child’s rights (Ajdukovic & Sladovic 2000). In such cases, separating a child from their family and confiding them to social welfare homes or foster families is usually the only solution. Hence, Koller-Trbovic & Zizak (1997) emphasize how the interest of professionals is often directed at the rights of children who live in highly risky environments, especially those who live away from their families.


The professional activities of social pedagogues in centers for social welfare are mostly connected with juvenile delinquency and with children and youths with behavioral disorders. Accordingly, the professional activities of social pedagogues include: providing information on family circumstances as well as their professional opinions in judicial proceedings involving criminal-justice cases; carrying out educational measures for juvenile delinquents within their primary environment (such as probation work); monitoring educational measures for juveniles in institutions; supervising special obligations pronounced regarding particular juveniles; providing additional help for families in high-risk, etc.


Social pedagogues also work in different social welfare institutions, but especially in ones which provide treatment for children and youths with behavioral disorders. However, it should be emphasized that Croatia still has a problem of non-differentiation in terms of institutions. Therefore, children and youths in institutions fall under the legal basis of three laws: the Act on Social Welfare, the Family Act, and the Act on Juvenile Courts. In other words, juvenile delinquents (after their criminal proceedings) are placed in institutions together with children and youths with behavioral disorders (who have been placed in institutions because they needed intensive professional supervision and because they could not function properly within their primary environment – their family).


Governmental bodies have shown initiatives in attempts to solve this problem and to define ‘network of institutions’, but as authors of this article we share the impression that in this regard the activities at local and practical levels are much more complicated in practice than they initially appear and thus there is a need for complete reorganization of the system.


In the system of social welfare, practice has revealed the following difficulties in the realization of educational measures9:

  • institutions cannot ensure differential treatment in accordance with the needs of individual juveniles, and they cannot ensure adequate implementation of contents, which results in lack of positive resocialization results, frequent runaways and recidivism in criminal offences

  • institutions take more juveniles with combined behavioral disorders which are indicative of a need for continual psychiatric treatment, whereas educators and other professionals in the institutions are not trained for this type of treatment

  • psychotherapy and treatment for some juveniles cannot be performed because of the location of institutions

  • as a result of the above-mentioned facts, juvenile courts have adopted some criteria by which they avoid pronouncing institutional educational measures; as a consequence, there has been a significant increase in juvenile probation and juvenile probation with special obligations; however, these measures are sometimes not adequate, so positive results are lacking

In an article on children and institutional care, Zganec & Kujundzic (2003) conclude that the policy of deinstitutionalization of placement and treatment of children and youths has begun. The authors emphasize that the future goals in social policy making should therefore be concentrated on the further process of deinstitutionalization and transformation of the social welfare system with alternative institutions of support. Nevertheless, having focus on children and youths with behavioral disorders and juvenile delinquents, the authors of this article believe that the primary task of representative governmental bodies should be creating a well-recognized network of institutions that would provide different professional treatment programs of a higher standard, prior to starting a process of deinstitutionalization.


It should not be overlooked that practice has shown how after the Croatian War of Independence, the structure of behavioral disorders has intensified, the age of juvenile criminal offenders has decreased (Zizak & Koren-Mrazovic 2001), and that the post-war generation has developed a significantly worse ‘profile’ by committing more violent crimes, consuming more alcohol and drugs, and by having extreme difficulties in the educational system (Miksaj-Todorovic & Singer 2004).


Given what has been discussed so far, we believe that it is very important to seriously question the priorities of treatment by recognizing population characteristics and by integrating scientific knowledge with the experience of practitioners who work with children and youths with behavioral disorders on an everyday basis.


5.4. Social pedagogues within juvenile justice system


Juvenile offenders have a special position in the Croatian justice system. Thus, the Act on Juvenile Courts (hereafter referred to as the Act) defines the criminal procedure for juveniles. The earliest specification of youths in the legal system dates back to 1852, when the law defined that only those children who were 10 years old (or over) could be criminally prosecuted. For younger perpetrators, the law predicted a measure of ‘home punishment’ (Singer 1998). Singer points out that in 1879 children could be prosecuted only if they were older than 12 years of age, and in 1902 the prosecution limit was set at the minimum of 14 years of age. The limit has remained the same to the present day.


Today’s Act (1998), which is lex specialis for juvenile offenders, also contains a general determination for realization of criminal sanctions for juveniles, and it is in accordance with all the international standards mentioned earlier in this article.

The 1998 Act (Articles 2 and 4) differentiates between three age groups of young offenders:

  1. younger juveniles (14 to 16 years of age)

  2. older juveniles (16 to 18 years of age)

  3. younger adult persons (18 to 21 years of age)

The same Act also prescribes three types of sanctions for juveniles:

  1. educational measures

  2. juvenile prison

  3. security measures

There are eight different educational measures, which can be grouped as (a) measures of warning, (b) measures of probation, and (c) institutional measures. They differ significantly in the specific treatment characteristics and in their duration. However, we can say that the common characteristic of all educational measures is that they are flexible in their duration. The Act proscribes minimum and maximum durations (usually lasting from 6 months to 2 or 3 years), though the exact duration depends on the time when the court finds it suitable to suspend certain educational measure because the purpose of the sanctions has been realized.


The Croatian Act provides for special juvenile courts that are responsible for offenses committed by juveniles. This legislative orientation has a long history in Croatia. Since 1918, the Croatian Act has provided for special employees in the state attorney office and juvenile courts who can participate in criminal procedures against juveniles (Singer 1998: 108). This practice has yielded good results and this has continued until the present day. The current Act on Juvenile Courts (Article 37) specifically defines that judges at juvenile courts and state attorneys who work on juvenile cases must have a special interest in the education, needs and benefits of youths, and must have a general knowledge of criminology, social pedagogy and social care for young populations.


In addition to the judge, the Act (Article 40) also provides for side judges participating in trials. Side judges must be people who work as professors, teachers, special educators, or other people who have knowledge in working with young people. In this way the Act aims to ensure the maximum quality of the criminal procedure with the intention to have educational influence on juveniles, along with responding to juveniles with the sanction which is professionally presumed will be the best for the given juvenile and the criminal offence they committed.


Social pedagogues have a significant role in the juvenile justice system in Croatia. They mostly work as professional associates at juvenile courts and the State Attorneys Office because the Act provides for this category of staff to work in preliminary procedures for juveniles, to collect relevant information about them and their personality, to give professional opinions on the sanctions that should be assessed for juveniles, to follow the development of sanctions pronounced, and to suggest suspension of sanctions or their replacement. Professional associates can be social pedagogues, social workers or psychologists.


It is also important to mention how children and youths can come to the juvenile courts and into the entire justice system as victims (injured parties), in proceedings of criminal justice system treatment. In such cases, where children and youths are victims of different criminal offences, the Act on Juvenile Courts emphasizes that investigation interviews must be performed with the professional help of pedagogues, psychologists or other professionals. In order to avoid secondary victimization, the Act also proscribes that when a child or younger minor is a victim or a witness, investigation interviews can be performed a maximum of two times. Interviews can also be conducted using cameras so that young persons can avoid be present in the courtroom, in front of judges, attorneys or the offender.


In cases where children are victims of certain offenses, judges in juvenile courts usually confide preparation for the procedure to their professional associates (Lalic-Lukac 2003), who make first contact with the victim (injured party) in less formal environment – sometimes in the primary environment of the child. In this way, children are treated with respect and with a considerable degree of understanding for their development, in addition to the protection and advocating of their rights, where social pedagogues play a significant role.


We can conclude that the juvenile justice system assumes special significance in cases where children and juveniles are victims of criminal offences (i.e. the injured party), as well as in cases where juveniles are the offenders in criminal acts. Flexibility in the system (regarding educational measures) and orientation on the education and upbringing of minors is a modern system of proceedings with a long tradition in Croatia, placing responsibility for juvenile’s actions in their own hands, and giving them the possibility to end sanctions earlier if there are professionals who can argue for suspension on their behalf. In this respect, social pedagogues are an important part of the juvenile justice system.



It is evident that much has been done in order to better define the legal acts, status and treatment of children and youths with behavioral disorders and to create programs of activities that will help prevent and provide better actions for different social problems.


In conclusion, we will use the model of four levels of law given by Daly (2002, cited in Bouillet in press). Daly differentiates the following levels of law: (1) rights implemented in constitution, (2) rights implemented in different legal acts, (3) policy that presumes realization of rights, and (4) rights guaranteed in practice. Following this model, we are of the impression that Croatia has good elements regarding the first two levels of law, with the recent intention to emphasize the importance of policy making. As stated previously, there are new, specific legal acts for certain social problems (family violence, substance abuse, etc.), as well as different national programs. Nevertheless, today’s practice has specific issues that imply a need for better realization of different legal acts, which usually presumes larger investments in structural and organizational issues.


In this respect we can mention some difficulties:

  • certain programs and activities, as well as realization of different legal determinations is still a privilege of larger urban centers

  • on the global level there is insufficient investment in employing new professionals (social pedagogues) in primal sectors working with children and youths with behavioral disorders (social welfare system, educational system, justice system, policing, and also non-governmental systems)

  • there is a need for better differentiation of institutions, so that they could provide specific treatment models and working methods for children and youths with developed serious behavioral disorders, while non-institutional programs should be available to young people at risk.


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List of international documents the Republic of Croatia is a party of, that in their content include rights of children and youth with behavioral disorders (Bouillet 2005).



  1. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCR)

  2. Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

  3. Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty

  4. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)

  5. International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms on Racial Discrimination (ICERD)

  6. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)

  7. Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

  8. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT)

  9. Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

  10. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

  11. Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and pornography

  12. Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict


  1. Minimum Age Convention of 1973 (No. 138)

  2. Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention of 1999 (No. 182)


  1. Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of 1950

  2. Protocol No.1 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of 1952

  3. Protocol No.4 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, securing certain rights and freedoms other then those already included in the Convention and the first Protocol thereto of 1963

  4. Protocol No.6 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms concerning the abolition of the Death Penalty of 1983 (ETS 114)

  5. Protocol No.7 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of 1984 (ETS 117)

  6. Protocol No.11 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, restructuring the control machinery established thereby of 1994 (ETS 155)

  7. Protocol No.12 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of 2000 (ETS 177)

  8. Protocol No.13 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms Concerning the Abolition of the Death penalty in all circumstances of 2002 (ETS 187)

  9. European Social Charter of 1961 (ETS 035)

  10. Additional Protocol to the European Social Charter of 1988 (ETS 128)

  11. Protocol amending the European Social Charter of 1991 (ETS 142)

  12. European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of 1987 (ETS 126)

  13. Protocol No.1 to the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of 1993 (ETS 151)

  14. Protocol No.2 to the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of 1993 (ETS 152)

  15. European Convention on the Exercise of Children’s Rights of 1996 (ETS 160)

1 All conventions are listed in the Appendix 1 of this paper

2 source:

3 source:

4 source: (National Gazette, No. 132/98, 102/00, 44/01, 36/02, 23/04)

5 source: (National Gazette, No. 139/97, 99/00, 36/02, 23/04)

6source: (responses to the questionnaire conducted by the European Commission to the Republic of Croatia)

7 source: Child and Society (2004), Year 6, No. 1., Ministry of Family, Veterans’ Affairs and Intergenerational Solidarity

8source: (responses to the questionnaire conducted by the European Commission to the Republic of Croatia

9 source: Condition review on pronounced and performed educational measures in the social welfare system, Proposal of Act on executing sanctions on juveniles for criminal offences and misdemeanors (bill)



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