In Croatia the issue of child abuse was brought to public attention 20 years ago. In the initial phase the greatest engagement was carried out by non-governmental organizations. Challenges occurring at that point included insufficient cooperation among NGOs and inefficient collaboration with the child protection system. NGO Brave Phone, a helpline for abused and neglected children, was among the most engaged NGOs in raising public awareness and began its work in 1997. Step by step public awareness regarding child abuse and neglect was enhanced – public actions were organized, brochures and leaflets for parents and professionals made and better cooperation with the media was established. The effect of „blowing the lid off“ emerged, with increased public awareness of the problem and growing number of reports of child abuse. Many cases were disclosed, revealing further challenges in this field – insufficient number of professionals trained in working with abused children, inefficient interagency collaboration and a lack of understanding of the role of professionals involved in the process. In addition, professionals did not feel competent enough to work with child abuse cases, therefore sufficient interest among professionals in this work was lacking. NGO Brave Phone and other devoted professionals could not solve such a complex problem. Cases were disclosed, but where to refer those children appeared as the main question. Permanent solution within the health care system was needed, not to depend on the enthusiasm of few professionals or the temporary budget given by projects or donations.
Step by step, public awareness supported by the media reached the critical level and local government accepted to find a solution. Building upon the enthusiasm and engagement of the non-governmental sector, the Child Protection Center of Zagreb was founded in 2002. Making the institution a permanent part of the govermental health care sector, has been crucial for its sustainability and accessability to the target group, based on the NGO experience where the budget was often not sustainable. Permanent solution was needed, not to allow an option in which the treatment that started with traumatized children could not be continued due to the lack of financial resources. Throughout the journey of enhancing the structure and practices of the child protection system, cooperation with stakeholders and the media has been vital.