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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 the family

Demographic indicators, which are of great importance for the family policy, show changes in the population size and structure that have occured in the recent decades.

Croatia is experiencing a low fertility rate (at around 1.4-1.5 children per women over recent years) and facing population aging. At the same time,  the age structure of population has undergone considerable changes.

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

Data on the increase in the divorce rate and a decrease in the marriage rate are also important for the family policy.
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 non-marital birth rates and in the number of unmarried women as well as of the emergence of new family forms, especially of comon-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, 29.3% of children (under the age of 18) were at risk of poverty and social exclusion in 2013. 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 interest of the child, which 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 (single-parent families, poor families, parents with physical and mental disabilities, families whose child suffers from a severe, chronical and life-threatening illness), 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.

New legislative and strategy framework

The Social Welfare Act from 2014, among other, enables the establishment of social services quality standards, requisites for the implementation of deinstitutionalization and development of new out-of-institution social welfare services. With regard to cash benefits, this Act introduces an institute of guaranteed minimum benefit (GMB) as a new form of cash benefit. Provisions of the Act better protect single persons and single parents as beneficiaries of guaranteed minimum benefit. In relation to deinstitutionalization process, the new Act provides legal background for the transformation of institutions into community service provision centres, as well as opportunities for a wider range of community social services, targeted at supporting families, foster parents and adopters.

As of 2014, there is a new Family Act, which defines the institute and the content of parental care in line with the recommendations of the Council of Europe on rights and legal status of children and parental responsibility. It also provides a wider range of measures for protection of children’s rights and well-being and arranges the area of adoption with a better quality.

Measures for protection of children’s rights and well-being have been improved and distinguish clearly among measures in the competence of the social welfare centre from those in the competence of the court. The existing measure of supervision over carrying out parental care in the competence of the social welfare centre has been extended and differentiated with the aim of providing more comprehensive support to children and families in risk; in other words with the aim of better intervention targeting and grading in line with a specific nature and intensity of needs and risks in a family.

Furthermore, considerable novelties have been introduced in the child adoption procedure, with the aim of increasing the number of adoptions of children without appropriate parental care through professional processing and compulsory preparation of potential adopters, preparation of the child and the adopters and support after having realized the adoption.

Within the framework of the family legislation reform, the republic of Croatia adopted the Temporary Support Act which clearly defines prerequisites for acquiring and realising the right to temporary support. By its implementation significant steps are going to be made towards stronger and more efficient protection of the right of the child to support. In the long run, it is planned to establish a support fund from temporary support amounts received. 

The Republic of Croatia adopted the Life Partnership Act relating to same-sex persons, by which a major step forward was made in terms of equalization of rights of formal and informal same-sex communities with marital and extra-marital community of heterogeneous partners. Governed by the best interest of the child, this Act, among other matters, regulates relationships related to children of same-sex partners: starting from the right to co-decision making in daily issues, independent decision making in important life situations, making decisions in relation to the realization of the parental care by the life partner. A decision on the acquisition of care is made exclusively by the court on the basis of protection and promotion of well-being of the child.

The Act stipulates relationships related to children that refer to realization of parental care of the life partner, making decisions in relation to the child, realizing personal relations after the termination of life partnership and other relationships concerning children.

National Strategy for the Rights of Children in the Republic of Croatia

At this moment, the key point in the development of policies for children in the Republic of Croatia is the new National Strategy for the Rights of Children in the Republic of Croatia 2014-2020. With this Strategy the Croatian Government has committed itself to creating a functional system to protect consistently all children’s rights and to meet their needs by 2020.
Starting from the Council of Europe Strategy for the Rights of the Child (2012-2015) (CM 2011/171) and the EU Agenda for the Rights of the Child, the Strategy focuses on four strategic goals:
1. Improving the system and providing child-friendly services,
2. Eliminating all forms of violence against children,
3. Ensuring the rights of children in vulnerable situations,
4. Ensuring active participation of children.
Based on the analysis of achievements and difficulties, the priorities, the specific goals, and the related measures and designated competent authorities have been defined for each strategic goal. It has been envisaged for the three-year action plan for the implementation of the Strategy, which would define activities and their implementation deadlines, to be prepared after the adoption of the Strategy.

A new Strategy for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion in the Republic of Croatia (2014 –2020) is a basic document which will enable systematic and common approach of all relevant actors in solving the problem of poverty and social exclusion, ensuring minimum standards for the most endangered part of society, and preventing new occurrences of poverty and social exclusion. This strategy underlines clearly the most vulnerable groups of society which are exposed to poverty and social exclusion (elderly persons, children, particularly children without appropriate parental care and children with developmental difficulties, children with disabilities and minorities), guided by the principle of being focused on the individual and its needs.

The Strategy is based on ensuring conditions for the accomplishment of three main objectives:
1. combating poverty and social exclusion and decrease of inequality in the society;
2. preventing creation of new categories of the poor, as well as reducing the number of the poor and socially excluded persons;
3. establishing a coordinated support system for groups in risk of poverty and social exclusion.

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, organizing and subsidizing pre-school programmes as well as other forms of services for parents, such as free compulsory education for children, subsidizing 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 persons 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 individualization, informatization and system networking.

As regards the system of family supports, the Republic of Croatia ensures continued payment of maternity and parental benefits as well as of child's allowance and pronatality benefit 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 harmonization of personal and professional life, to encourage a higher birth rate and facilitate a 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 leaves and monetary benefits regardless of their employment status, and sets forth responsibilities of an employer regarding the protection and rights of pregnant women, women who have recently given birth and mothers until the child's first birthday at the workplace.

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 a compulsory and additional maternity leave. The right to a compulsory maternity leave is used for 98 days without interruption, of which 28 days before the expected due date and 70 days after the birth.

Following the expiration of the compulsory maternity leave, an employed of 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 six 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 is given to both working parents who are entitled to the same parental leave periods as follows: 8 months for the first and second born child, 30 months for twins, third and every subsequent child (each parent for the period of 4 or 15 months).

In case the parental leave is used by only one parent, as agreed upon by both parents, it may be used for 6 months for the first and second born 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 maternity 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 system 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 benefit 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 persons 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 child'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.

The right to a maternity/parental benefit is granted upon  filing up a claim to the local office of the Croatian Health Insurance Fund.
Some cities and municipalities pay from the local budget an additional grantfor the equipment for a newborn child. The level of this grant is bigger  for parents of twins, third and each subsequent child, compared to a benefit for the first-born child. Also, particular rights (aids, compensations) from the welfare system can be given by the local and regional government.

Services for children and family

For some years past, Croatia has been experiencing changes and the so-called concept of social investment is being more and more 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 workforce 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 in 2012.

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 until primary school. The programmes of pre-school education and care are organized 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 founded, funded by religious communities (religious kindergartens) and other domestic legal and natural persons (private kindergartens).

At the beginning of 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. Acording to Eurostat data, in 2012 12% of children aged 3 attended a formal childcare facility. The share of children aged 3 until the compulsory school age was greated, with 9% of children in this age group attending formal childcare part-time and 32% attending formal childcare facility full-time.

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. 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.

This Law was adopted for the purpose of meeting the needs of children and parents for extrainstitutional child care as well as the needs of nannies to provide services in accordance with the appropriate regulations.

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, persons with disabilities and their family members, and other socially vulnerable groups. All services provided by family centres are free of charge.

According to the recent changes of The Social Welfare Act family centres has become a part of Centers for social welfare with the same tasks and responsibilities.

At the end of 2008, the Government of the Republic of Croatia adopted the Law on the Foundation ″Croatia for the Children″ and established the Foundation ″Croatia for the Children″ in order to create the conditions for the implementation of activities aimed at the comprehensive child care and thus contribute to addressing challenges faced by children and their families.

The Foundation awards grants in cash and in kind, or grants the use of cultural, educational, recreational, sports and similar programmes. The Foundation also grants scholarships to students attending public colleges and to pupils during secondary education.

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