Tartu Child Support Centre (Estonia)

The primary purpose of the Tartu Child Support Centre is to provide abused children and their family members with psychosocial rehabilitation, and to prevent violence in Estonia – which children and families are exposed to and suffer from – through informing the wider public (community) and training professionals; and likewise to help abused children and their family members.


Before the 1990s the topic of child abuse used to be a taboo in Estonian society. Relevant research and qualified specialists were not available, and thus there was no possibility of seeking appropriate help.

In 1992 psychologist Dagmar Kutsar and paediatrician Ruth Soonets carried out a study among young people aged 14–15 that made it evident that child abuse is a widespread phenomenon in our community and, furthermore, people lack the knowledge and skills to handle these problems.

Within a couple of years the head of Tartu Children’s Outpatient Clinic and the psychologists at the same clinic worked out a model to establish a multidisciplinary centre. The Support Centre was officially opened as a non-governmental organisation in 1995. It was the first of its kind in Estonia. During the first years of its existence the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Open Society Foundation financially supported the centre.

The specialists (medical professionals, psychologists, social workers) completed a special education cycle (of 20 weeks), delivered by leading specialists in their field in the US and Europe. This education provided a good basis for professional help.

Core Idea

 A) Providing abused children with psychosocial counselling and therapy to help the child to cope and manage better. It is important to interrupt the cycle of violence to guarantee a safer life for any children the current child victim might have in the future (to stop the recurrence of the pattern).

B) Acknowledging the problem in society, introducing the consequences, and possible ways of helping by providing training for specialists and solving network cases.

C) Preventive activity to avoid abuse.

Child Perspective

Children are at the focus of every activity at the centre.  When working with clients, the child is always asked for his/her view and opinion about different issues.

Description of the Practice

Target Audience

A) Abused children and their family members.

B) Specialists who are involved in work with children (child protection workers, pedagogues, medical practitioners, lawyers).



Providing psychological, social and medical counselling, acute aid in emergency cases to the children and their family members that are exposed to/suffer from violence, and psychotherapy (individual, group and family therapy, music and game therapy, solution-focused brief therapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy).

The Child Support Centre's team serves children from infancy until the age of 18, and likewise their family members. All consultations and therapy sessions are confidential and free of charge.

Training for Specialists

The objectives of training projects are as follows:

To teach new skills to specialists involved in work with children (medical practitioners, social workers, pedagogues, psychologists, juvenile police officers, prosecutors, judges etc.) and to raise their competence in treating abused children and their families.

To establish a network of specialists in Tartu, and to implement the same model across Estonia.

To be a practical training centre for students in the fields of social work, special pedagogics and law at Tartu University. To provide students with knowledge on child abuse, and opportunities for helping in Estonia.

To inform the community about domestic violence and child abuse, shaping public opinion towards domestic violence and child abuse issues in society.

The “Child Abuse and Treatment” foreign project:
A training programme for child specialists working in St. Petersburg and Pskov, intended for social workers, legal practitioners, medical practitioners and university students in St. Petersburg and Pskov.
The project consists of three cyclic training seminars (each lasting 3 days) for the target group.

Project “Big Brother, Big Sister”

This programme was originally started in the US. In Estonia this program was initiated in 1997 in Tartu.

The goal of the project is to promote a higher self-esteem in little brothers and sisters and help establish a positive worldview that would help them to overcome the difficulties they may face in life.

This is sought through establishing a friendship between two individuals: a child and a grown-up volunteer. The matched pair meets weekly for 2–3 hours to spend time together. These pairs of friends enjoy roller-skating, go to cafés, visit different exhibitions, go swimming and take part in various events, such as a Christmas Show, excursions, adventure camps, etc.

The little sister/brother can be a child

  • whose family has experienced crises as a result of a divorce, disease or other problems
  • who feels lonely, neglected or rejected
  • who suffers from difficulties at school or behavioural problems
  • who needs a good and trustworthy friend

The big brother/sister is a support person who is at least 18 years of age and is willing to care and provide help for a child with problems and to be their friend for at least one year. Currently the majority of support persons are university students.

While deciding to join this program the would-be support person has to participate in special training and, later, take part in monthly supervision sessions.

A written agreement is drawn up between the child, the support person and the parent or caregiver of the child, and it can be renewed after the first year.

Additional Services

  • Supervision of specialists that are involved in work with children, team work.
  • Regular participation in the commission for minors.
  • Assessment of a child’s mental health condition for a court of law and for child protection specialists.
  • Involvement in child interviews during hearings and as a specialist in court sessions.
  • Summoning “the city team” and supervising the handling of complicated cases.


The Tartu Child Support Centre employs:

A Director (pediatrician), 2 child psychotherapists (with experience of more than 10 years), 1 child psychiatrist (work experience of 30 years), 1 psychologist, 1 paediatrician/social worker, 1 social worker, 1 hotline consultant.

The activities of the Tartu Child Support Centre are based on teamwork. All team members are qualified, and have received special training to deal with abused children and their family members.


During the centre’s twelve years of activity, over 4,000 children (and their family members) have received help (counselling, support person service, psychotherapy).

Various forms of training have been provided. Topics have dealt with family relationships both in families with nurturing relationships and in ones that experience neglect. Training has been provided for specialists who work with children (child protection workers, law enforcement practitioners, pedagogues, psychologists, medical practitioners, lawyers, parents, and university students). 


 “Child Maltreatment I” (1997) and “Child Maltreatment II” (2007) have been published and translated into Russian.

Police ABC (how to recognise child abuse) – Manual for Police Practitioners (2002, the authors were members of a multidisciplinary team).

Leaflets: new introductory leaflets of the Child Support Centre: Never Shake your Baby; Every Child Deserves to be Safe, Strong and Free; Early Development of the Child; Dangers of Going to Work Abroad.

Co-author in the books “Hyperactive Child”, Victim’s Aid Manual.

Tartu Child Support Centre’s specialists have spoken in the media (radio, television, printed media) about the issue of child abuse.


The centre’s effectiveness has been measured through questionnaires filled in by children, specialists and parents. Feedback has been provided by specialists who have been working with children.

  • The opinion of specialists and the number of specialists who have appealed to our centre. The community recognises abused children, and more of them are being referred to the support centre for help.  Specialists focus more on neglected children and abused children.
  • Each case of abuse that has been appropriately solved will contribute to abuse prevention, as the abuse cycle becomes interrupted and  the children involved are unlikely to become abusers in their future families.  
  • According to our social worker, the parenting skills of clients who come to our centre show a tendency towards improvement. Parents are able to avoid abuse.
  • The media reflects the problem more openly and relevantly. The community reacts to the problems more actively.
  • The Tartu Child Support Centre has helped to establish similar centres and has served as a model for them.

Description of the Organisation

The Tartu Child Support Centre is an NGO with the aim of offering rehabilitation services to abused children and their families as well as preventing violence.

Contact Information

Ms. Lemme Haldre
Tartu Laste Tugikeskus (Tartu Child Support Center)
Kaunase pst 11-2/3

Tel.: +372 7484 666

ch.abuse [at] online.ee