Associate member Dr Ivana Dobrotić plays major role in securing free school meals for primary students in Croatia

Several primary school children sitting at a lunch table, wearing white polo shirts. They are eating and chatting. The table is filled with multicoloured cups.

Associate member of the Department Dr Ivana Dobrotić, who is Associate Professor of Comparative Social Policy at the University of Zagreb, played a major role in getting the Croatian government to introduce free school meals for every child of primary school age.

Dr Dobrotić and her colleagues Olja Družić Ljubotina, Marijana Kleteči Radović and Anotnija Petričušić have been campaigning and advocating for this policy change since June 2020, having seen reports about primary-age children being left without school meals. This was caused by both the pandemic and the fact that EU subsidies were reduced

Dr Dobrotić mounted a campaign to highlight that every fifth child in Croatia is at risk of poverty and that the existing school meal programme was insufficient. Only 20% of children were fully, and 13% partially, subsided and over a third of children were excluded. Administrative barriers and lack of funds meant that many children in need could not enter the free school meals program, and there was a high risk of stigmatising children in the program since only some got it. There was no transparent, uniform and coordinated system of financing school meals in Croatia.

Faced with these facts, Dr Dobrotić and colleagues started the initiative “The right of every child to a school meal” and argued for a universal system where all children would have equal rights.

Their advocacy, which started with an open letter to the President of Croatia, the Prime Minister and the members of the Government, the Ombudsperson for Children and the media, led to numerous meetings with senior politicians – including the Prime minister and President of Croatia – and numerous media appearances.

Finally the government committed to introducing school meals on a universal basis for every child from January 2023. This will be funded from the central budget. Therefore, this change brings both a significant increase in funding and a much more secure funding base.

Ivana stressed: “We were thrilled to see that our research found application, and that we took the opportunity to propose a measure that will now come to life and help many children and families. Advocacy skills, some of which I learned in Oxford, helped immensely. I would really like to thank DSPI for the opportunity to learn and develop, and especially to my former supervisor Mary Daly, who supported me in joining and being at DSPI as Marie Curie Fellow. That allowed me to attend numerous trainings organised by Social Sciences Division. I am convinced that the training that proved crucial was that provided by former BBC journalists Claire Bolderson and Caroline Finnigan, who taught me how to engage and talk with the media.”