A two-day training for building the capacities of institutional representatives to effectively share information about children who are absent from school was held on April 4 and 5, 2023 in Skopje, within the framework of the “Pilot project for an early warning system for missing children” implemented by CSO “Journalists for Human Rights”. The aim of this two-day training is to build the capacities of institutional representatives to effectively share information about children who are absent from school, and the representatives of the institutions and authorities, together with 4 experts from Austria and North Macedonia, strengthened the capacities for facilitated inter-institutional exchange of information. The ultimate goal is that the facilitated ways of inter-institutional communication help in the functioning of the Early Warning System for Missing Children website, contributing to reducing the risk of children disappearing.

This two-day training session discussed the protection and sharing of personal data, access to public information, trauma management and self-care related to missing children, with data protection officers in schools, teaching staff, social work centres, Ministry of Health.

The training started with introductory words from Mag. Harald Fugger, Attaché of the Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection of the Republic of Austria.

-The project for “piloting an early warning system for missing children” is one of the successful project applications in the context of the international call made by the Austrian Ministry of Social Affairs. Within this project, among other things, 3 study visits have already been made in Austria to visit relevant institutions, organizations and stakeholders and to see examples of good practices in this area. In order to be able to fulfill international and European obligations in the field of human rights policies, it is important that all countries establish effective mechanisms for coordination and monitoring, as well as professional advice and support services, provided especially by non-governmental organizations – said Mag. Harald Fugger.

That said, child protection must be a top priority for all countries that have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In order to effectively enforce this, a separate child protection law is needed that covers all relevant areas such as: an independent monitoring body for the implementation of children’s rights, clearly clarifying the obligations and tasks of all stakeholders working with children and young people for child protection, development of child protection strategies and concepts, sufficient funding of measures and services against child exploitation and trafficking, measures against violence and counseling services and support for victims, awareness raising, education and equal opportunities, especially in relation to disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.

Alexandra Radevska, project coordinator from “Journalists for Human Rights”, presented the activities carried out so far as well as the main goals and activities of the expansion of the project, pointing out that the purpose of the training is to facilitate the principle of information exchange for children who are absent from school more of three days and are thus at risk of extinction.

Experts from North Macedonia (Agency for the Protection of the Right to Free Access to Public Information, Agency for the Protection of Personal Data) shared practices for the protection of personal data and access to public information and how to make it available on the website – Missing Children Early Warning System.

Petar Gajdov from the Agency for the Protection of the Right to Free Access to Public Information presented the purpose of the Agency and the purpose of the Law for which it was established, the obligations of the holders of information, the differences between proactive and reactive transparency as well as the detailed steps and deadlines that should to be followed in the procedure following a request for public information provided by the Law on Free Access to Public Information. It was also discussed that everything can be public information, as well as that schools can collect and share information about children who are absent from classes, as long as personal data is protected. The exceptions were explained, as well as the harmfulness test, and all this was practically brought to the participants with examples from the work of the Agency.

Emilia Ginoska from the Personal Data Protection Agency introduced the principles of personal data protection as well as the rights of personal data subjects. She introduced the legal framework and the different terms and their meaning: Personal Data, Controller, Processor, Processing, Consent, Special Categories of Personal Data. Transparency and obligations of information holders were also discussed.

– Personal data is one of the most valuable currencies nowadays, it is collected and resold. He has 6-year-old children with profiles on social networks, play online, cause financial damage to parents, but are also the target of predators… It is very specific with children, that’s why we do trainings and workshops, says Ginoska.

Practical examples of disputed cases or abuse of personal data by institutions or private individuals and the ways in which such abuse can be punished and contested were also pointed out.

In the topics of trauma management and self-care, experts from Austria shared practices that are implemented in their institutions or practices of non-governmental organizations and can be useful for representatives of institutions in North Macedonia when it comes to situations of missing children, children in risk and also in dealing with families, media or other institutions.

An introduction to trauma management and self-care related to missing children was given by Elizabeth Hartl from the Child Protection Center – Roite, and discussing it, the participants stated that there is no training in self-care, stress management, burnout in social work centers. .but also in schools especially post-Covid, mental health was visibly worse… Discussed through exercises and examples about social support, warning signs, as well as the 7 pillars of self-care, mental, emotional, physical, environmental, spiritual , recreational and social. The ABC model of crisis management was also explained, and the exchange of good practices among colleagues was indicated as very useful, as well as teamwork.

On measures for building relationships and trust and managing conversations, the session was led by Monika Steiner Tolic from the Child Protection Center – Tirol, who, explaining the strategies for talking with children, explained that it is useful to show warmth, empathy, openness, to go at the level of the child in the external and internal position, to show curiosity for the child, but also flexibility. When talking to a parent, however, she says, it’s helpful to create a common ground for discussion: The parent wants the best for their child, and you want the best for them. Models of good questions, listening attentively, conversation setting, as well as summarizing the conversation, but also auxiliary materials such as crayons and drawing paper, toys when talking with children were discussed. When working with parents, it is good to have a positive comment about their participation, and finally, it is recommended to make a protocol for parents and children.

From the information shared at the two-day capacity building training for institutional representatives on effective sharing of information about children missing from school, what was highlighted as useful was the creation of a network for easier collaboration between institutions, NGOs and parents and children, thus achieving effectiveness of the process is useful for children and families in a shorter period and not to be separated and in the care of the state. This practice works well in Austria, but it takes time and a legal structure that helps the process, but can be a good example of a situation where social services are understaffed, overburdened and have too many jurisdictions.

Improvement of services for children, with reforms in the integrated crisis management of social services, was pointed out by Mag. Harald Fuger, perhaps as a separate institution – the Agency for the Protection of Children.

Public information, how to share it, data protection and procedures in accordance with data protection regulations were considered a good way to build on efforts for more structured information on children missing from school and children at risk of going missing. Future steps also include another training where institutional and parent-child relationship issues can be improved. Support systems for school staff and more training in self-care, but also working with children and parents, as well as improved protocols with other institutions were mentioned as important issues to continue working on.

The continued work of the register of phantom persons – persons without a birth certificate – was also pointed out as important for children who can easily become victims of human trafficking and who cannot be traced as missing children or runaways, and the work of the Association of Young Lawyers and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and the Centers for Social Affairs should continue, but also work with families who tend to leave the country for 3 months and do not provide or have no information or legal proof of the child’s education status while abroad.

All participants expressed their willingness to join efforts in taking steps to institutionalize and strengthen the website of the early warning system in North Macedonia. The development of an inter-institutional system for the exchange of information on children missing from school will strengthen the early warning system with another tool to minimize the risk of children going missing.

“Journalists for human rights” in cooperation and under the project management of “ECPAT Austria”, implements the project in North Macedonia, including various stakeholders (public and private sector, civil society organizations, media, business sector) in the period from July 1, 2021 – December 31, 2023, with financial support from the Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection.