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Croatia is currently drafting a new family policy. Family policy, as well as social policy, are under the considerable influence of changes taking place in society. Just like many European countries, Croatia has been facing a demographic recession for quite some time, mainly due to low fertility rates, population decline and population aging. In addition, although not as quickly as in developed countries, the family structure is changing and pluralising. Although low birth rates are not an explicit priority of the family policy, it is a complex issue calling for interventions in several areas of action.

Demographic changes and family

Demographic indicators show changes in the population size and structure that have occured in the recent decades.

Croatia is experiencing a decline in fertility rates and, at the same time, facing population aging. Also, the age structure of the population has undergone considerable changes. The total fertility rate has remained relatively stable at a low rate of around 1.5 in recent years

According to the 2011 census, 17.7% of people were aged over 65, whereas in 2001 the figure stood at 15.6%. According to the census, for the first time the number of people aged over 65 exceeded the number of children aged 0 to14, whose share amounts to 15.2%. The analysis of the rate of population growth in the Republic of Croatia from 2001 to 2011 showed negative population growth. In 2011, the population growth rate amounted to -2.2% (-9,822).

There were 5,768 children born outside of marriage, constituting 14% of the total number of live births. A large number of children born outside of marriage is the result of changing attitudes towards giving birth, marriage and family, and in particular of an increase in the number of unmarried women as well as of the emergence of new family forms, especially of common-law marriage.

According to the data provided by the Croatian Bureau of Statistics, single parents living with one or more dependent children have a high risk of living in poverty. Acording to Eurostat data, 33.8% of children (under the age of 18) were at risk of poverty and social exclusion in 2012. The Strategy of Social Welfare Development in the Republic of Croatia (2011-2016) focuses on fighting poverty and social exclusion by identifying priorities and measures for their elimination. Aiming at ensuring the best interests of the child who is living with parents in familiar surroundings, Croatia is developing measures to provide more intensive assistance and support to families, or parents facing a higher risk of social exclusion, in order to prevent risky behaviours which may lead to removing the child from its family and placing the child into an institution, foster family, or family home.

A network of family supports

Family policy in the Republic of Croatia includes various monetary benefits intended for families with children, maternity and parental benefits (maternity and parental leave), children's allowance and pronatal allowance, organising and subsidising pre-school programmes as well as other forms of services for parents, such as free compulsory education for children, subsidising the extended stay in schools and alike.

The Ministry of Social Policy and Youth protects the interests of and improves the rights of vulnerable social groups, in particular of families, children, youth, senior citizens and people with disabilities, by developing a model of combined social policy, taking into account the principle of subsidiarity, as well as by developing quality standards, service individualisation, informatisation and system networking.

As regards the system of family supports, the Republic of Croatia ensures the continued payment of maternity and parental benefits as well as of children's allowance and pronatal benefits through the active application of the Maternity and Parental Benefits Act and the Child's Allowance Act.

The Maternity and Parental Benefits Act belongs to the system of family policy and social security and serves to provide direct protection of maternity, to faciliate the harmonisation of personal and professional life, to encourage a higher birth rate and facilitate greater involvement from fathers in early child care.

The Act regulates the rights of pregnant women, women who have recently given birth and parents to adequate leave and monetary benefits regardless of their employment status, and sets forth the responsibilities of an employer regarding the protection and rights of pregnant women, new parents and mothers in the workplace until the child's first birthday.

In Croatia, all parents are granted the right to maternity and parental leave as well as to monetary benefits during that time.

An employed pregnant woman, or a mother is entitled to maternity leave until the child reaches six months of age, consisting of compulsory and additional maternity leave. The right to compulsory maternity leave is for 98 days without interruption, 28 days of which are to be taken before the expected due date and 70 days are to be taken after the birth.

Following the expiration of the compulsory maternity leave, an employed or self-employed mother is entitled to additional maternity leave until the child reaches six months of age, which may be transferred to the child's father.

After the child turns sixth months old, an employed parent is entitled to parental leave, which may be taken before the child reaches 8 years of age. The right to parental leave belongs to both working parents who are entitled to the same parental leave periods as follows: 8 months for the first and second born child, and 30 months for twins, the third and every subsequent child (for each parent for the period of 4 or 15 months). In case that parental leave is used by only one parent it may be used for 6 months for the first and second child, 30 months for twins, the third and every subsequent child.

Throughout the duration of the compulsory or additional parental leave, the mother or the father are entitled to a benefit amounting to 100% of the pay received during the 6 months prior to leave. Parental benefit amounts to €348.

An unemployed parent (including a parent with other incomes) is entitled to maternity and parental exemption from work as well as to monetary benefit during that time, starting from the day of the child's birth.

Mothers outside the labour market are entitled to a monetary benefit during the period of maternity and parental care for the newborn child.

Maternity care for the child implies the period from birth until the child reaches six months of age, whereas parental care for the child implies the period from the child's sixth month until the first birthday, for the first and second born child or until the third birthday for twins, the third and every subsequent child.

Monetary benefits during the period of maternity or parental exemption from work/care for the child amounts to €217.

The Child's Allowance Act sets forth the entitlement conditions for means-tested benefit payments and people who may be granted that right. The entitlement conditions for children's allowance are equal for all categories of beneficiaries. In accordance with the established income groups, the amount of children's allowance varies from €26 to €109.

The pronatal benefit for the third and fourth child may be granted to the children's allowance beneficiary only if the beneficiary is exercising the right to allowance for three of four children in the amount of €65 per child.

Services for children and family

For some years past, Croatia has been experiencing changes and the so-called concept of social investment is being increasingly emphasised, in particular in the area of developing high-quality, publicly financed programmes of pre-school education. The public policy measures are not seen as an expenditure, but a high-quality early education is considered to be a key asset for children's future opportunities and such investment is, therefore, no longer seen as spending, but as an investment generating multiple returns (for example, through the employment of both parents and paid taxes, lower risk of child poverty and less spending to address the effects of child poverty, future high-quality work force and alike). The investments into the programmes and services intended for the benefit of the child and family in Croatia amount on average to 1.6% of GDP.

The fact that most Croatian families choose simultaneous fulfillment of the roles of parenthood and labour force participation, and that most parents work, points to the importance of pre-school care.

Pre-school care is organized and implemented for children from 6 months to primary school. The programmes of pre-school education and care are organised into nursery and kindergarten groups at the pre-school facility and may be in the form of regular, full-day or play school programmes – for children aged 6 who are not attending a regular pre-school programme, or short programmes.

A pre-school facility may be publically funded, funded by religious communities (religious kindergartens) and other domestic legal and natural persons (private kindergartens).

At the beginning of the school year 2010/2011, there were a total of 1,495 pre-school facilities and other legal persons conducting pre-school education programmes, and a total of 125,166 children attending pre-school education programmes. Of the total number of children 18.8% were younger than three years.

The Law on Nannies was adopted with the aim of improving extrainstitutional forms of assistance for the family. As a result of the perceived need, such form of child care was legally regulated in order to provide children and parents professional and high-quality service, and to make it possible for nannies to work in accordance with the law. The adoption of the Law on Nannies was the basis for the creation of a transparent and legally safe system as well as for the professional and responsible provision of services.

In Croatia, there are family centres providing counselling services and assistance to families and individuals. The importance of family centres lies in conducting activities aimed at raising the quality of life of children, youth and families as well as at promoting family values and responsible parenthood. Family centres conduct programmes and services intended for children and youth, parents, partners and future parents, children with developmental difficulties, people with disabilities and their family members, other socially vulnerable groups. All services provided by family centres are free of charge.

At the end of 2008, the Government of the Republic of Croatia established the Foundation ″Croatia for the Children″. The Foundation awards grants in cash and in kind, or grants the use of cultural, educational, recreational, sports and similar programmes for families and children. The Foundation also grants scholarships to students attending public colleges and to pupils in secondary education.

The information in the country profile was last updated in February 2014.