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Interview with Jelena Ristic

by , Posted on 24th Nov 2013

Jelena Ristic about the project “Supporting families at risk”, “Family outreach workers”, motives and goals of NDF…

Implementation of a joint project of NDF, UNICEF and Government of Serbia, called “Supporting families at risk”, has started across Serbia. 53 families with 118 children have already been included, with aim to prevent the separation of children from their families, and strengthen families to cope with the crisis and provide their children with adequate care, safe and stimulating environment.

There is a team of people behind this program, led by the “Family outreach workers” who are doing their best to make sure the children have a beautiful childhood.

That’s what Jelena Ristic, the “Novak Djokovic“ Foundation CEO, was talking about in an interview to web portal “Žena” (Woman), pointing out that a child’s smile and stable family are the main NDF motives for work.

We will do anything for a child’s smile

If it hadn’t been for the strong family standing fully behind Novak Djokovic, question is whether he would have become the best player in the world. That’s why today his Foundation helps projects with aim to strengthen the true team values, and the first to be implemented is called the “Family outreach worker”. Jelena Ristic, the Foundation CEO, says in an exclusive interview for portal “Žena” (Woman) that a child’s smile and stable family are their main motives for work.

Jelena is very committed to the Foundation. She says that just one smile is enough to motivate her and the whole team to work day and night to realize children’s right to smile and have a carefree childhood.

The goal of this brand new and innovative program is to prevent the separation of children from their families, and strengthen families to cope with crisis and provide their children with adequate care, safe and stimulating environment.

– The “Family outreach worker” is a result of several months of deliberation with the Centers for Social Welfare, Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Policy, UNICEF, experts from institutions for children without parental care and the Novak Djokovic Foundation. The aim is to further strengthen families to cope with crisis and at the same time take care of children. This service has been necessary in the social protection system for several reasons. First of all, our centers are overcrowded with families in need. Social workers simply do not have time for continual work with them to become stronger and modify their behavior models. They are working on 300 cases per year, and our staff will need two and a half years for that because attention and dedication, as well as time, are required for accomplishing the results. A child’s biological family is irreplaceable, and in most cases, it has no alternative. Of course, there are situations when there’s a threat to the life of a child and it must be displaced from the family. But there are many more situations where families just need someone to direct them, to give a suggestion, to motivate them, take them to the doctor, provide documents, to enroll their child in kindergarten, to give them advice how to overcome the situation. All those families must voluntarily agree to be included in the service. We are sure that after six months they will be much stronger – says Jelena Ristic, who has been closely monitoring each step of implementation, and the Foundation will continue monitoring of the project implementation.

Situation in the field

Working with families is demanding and sensitive. You need to make a plan to overcome the crisis, but also need to know the law and the administration, because you are there to provide social assistance if the family has the right to it,to report them to the agency, enroll children in kindergarten, local workshops, counselings.

– Our family outreach workers from Belgrade, Novi Sad, Kragujevac and Nis who were at the meeting call those families “my family”, they are very excited and ambitious to change the families for the better. I was really happy when I saw them and talked to them on Monday. They identify with the problems of the families and try with all their heart to help them overcome the crisis. Something like that is priceless, explained Jelena Ristic, the “Novak Djokovic” Foundation CEO.

According to Miss Ristic, it is very important for the whole society that the “Family outreach worker” service becomes a success and an integral part of the social protection system. If it proves to be justified, the idea is that the state would later take over funding of these programs. This project exists in several countries in the USA, the Great Britain, and there are also similar projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

– Ms Katlin Brasic from UNICEF is one of the key people who felt the need for these services in Serbia and gave the solution proposal to social workers, the Ministry and the Foundation. We’ve been working with many organizations and foundations and learning every day. This project is very important for the social system of our country. Social workers should continually deal with families, especially in the field. If our social workers have more cases than working days, then it is impossible.

The family outreach worker service will relieve social workers and their intervention will be crucial. It is expected that one family outreach worker gets 20 cases per year.

– The Republic of Serbia has already adopted a ban of placing children below three years of age in residential care, in compliance with the EU and the UN principles. The point is to develop emergency foster care, foster care in general, and to allow the rules change. Following this trend we have developed additional services that help children stay together with their families, by strengthening the family – Jelena explains, adding that the whole NDF team is very dedicated. They are supporting and encouraging each other.

– We spend hours and hours in meetings, looking for the ideal solution for children. When one falters, others are there to give a hand… This work is very difficult and there’s a long way getting to visible results, but it is important not to give up and to believe that we’re doing the right thing. A smile on a child’s face leads us toward achievement of our goals – concluded Jelena Ristic.


Find out more about the “Novak Djokovic” Foundation project

The project is being fully implemented since the end of September, when all professional team members (16 in total – four in each city) completed their training, i.e. when the Social Work Centres started visiting the families. The “Family Outreach Workers” ​​contacted 26 families at the beginning of October.

The pilot service is currently being carried out in four homes for abandoned children: Zvecanska in Belgrade, Dusko Radovic in Nis, Development Centre “Kneginja Ljubica” in Kragujevac and the SOS Children’s Village in Novi Sad. The Republic Institute for Social Protection is taking care of the coordination. It is a three year project, funded by the “Novak Djokovic” Foundation with $750,000.

Source: Portal Blic Žena
Author: Mariota Vlaisavljević

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