New format for working with children: Police units in eastern Ukraine now have “green rooms” thanks to EU and UN

From now on, police units in eastern Ukraine will have “green rooms” which are specially equipped spaces for effective communication with children and teens who have come into conflict with the law, and those who have witnessed crimes or suffered from domestic violence.

This approach is in extensive use in many countries around the world, including Germany, Poland, Estonia, and Georgia. Thanks to the UN Recovery and Peacebuilding Programme and the financial support of the European Union, seven “green rooms” in Donetsk Oblast have already started operations.

We spoke to Natalia Yazan, a juvenile prevention inspector at the police unit of Sloviansk, to find out about her experience working with children and about the effectiveness of “green rooms.”

Empathy and honesty are the most important things when working with kids

Often, the first emotions children experience when they come face to face with a police officer are fear and despair. It’s important to recognize these emotions quickly and react accordingly without causing any additional harm to their mental health and comfort the children instead.

“Over the years, you learn how to react to every emotion that children experience when they find themselves in difficult life situations,” says Natalia. “We cannot afford to make a mistake or replay the situation. You need to be calm, collected, and understand that there is a child right in front of you.”

“The approach to children of different ages differs, so it’s important to understand the basics of developmental psychology. However, if you ask me what the most important things are when working with kids, I would say that they are empathy and honesty, without any hesitation.”

“You can’t lie to children — they can always feel it. If we remove a child from the family, we cannot say that the parents will return tomorrow and take them home. False hopes will only cause unnecessary harm.”

A new format for working with children

In fact, “green rooms” are not just about developing the physical infrastructure in the police stations and properly renovating “green rooms” where police personnel and psychologists can work with kids.

It is a full-fledged system of processes and methods based on the best European practices that help to ensure children’s rights and freedom during investigations and legal proceedings.

“Green rooms” help to ease the psychological pressure that a child feels, allowing them not only to feel comfortable, but also to express their feelings and emotions in words, through paintings, or interaction with different objects.

“When I first stepped into the “green room,” the first thing I felt was anticipation and hope that old system and associated stereotypes were being shattered, and that there is hope for better quality and a new format for working with children,” said the inspector, remembering her first emotions on getting to know more about the new format.

“The most important thing is that the “green room” has changed the mood and perception that children have about police officers because they get into a friendly environment and feel safe.”

“Children in such a friendly atmosphere, where they are around toys and children’s books, start getting along much more easily,” Natalia analyzes the work in recent months.

To change society for the better, we need to work more with children

“We often try to re-educate adults, for example, to reduce crimes. However, I am convinced that to change our society for the better, we should work more with children,” says the inspector.

“Before quarantine, officers in our unit often visited local schools and had informal conversations with students. We need to explain to children what is good and what is bad, in the simplest and most comprehensible way possible. However, it is equally important that children develop a positive image of a police officer, and believe that they can always go to the police for advice or help when needed. We don’t want children to be afraid of us, and “green rooms” slowly, but steadily allow us to get rid of that fear.”

Under the UN Recovery and Peacebuilding Programme, seven police units of Donetsk Oblast in eastern Ukraine (Druzhkivka, Mariupol, Sloviansk, Hnutove, Sartana, Talakivka, as well as in the territorial division of Manhush district) were fully refurbished in line with international standards for the “green rooms.” We also conducted a series of training programmes for juvenile prevention staff about nonviolent communication, parapsychology techniques, and detection of signs of domestic violence.

Background

The United Nations Recovery and Peacebuilding Programme (UN RPP) is being implemented by four United Nations agencies: the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The programme is supported by twelve international partners: the European Union, the European Investment Bank and the governments of Canada, Denmark, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.

Photo credit: Artem Hetman/ UNDP in Ukraine

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