Over the past 11 years, “Hope and homes for children – Bulgaria ” (HHC) has very successfully implemented two tools – Active Family Support and District DI Coordination Mechanism (DDICM). With this support, many families were able to raise their children at home. During these years, abandoned babies in Bulgaria decreased from over 1000 to less than 100 in 2022. The decreased number of abandoned children also led to the closure of Homes for medical and social care for children (HMSCC) from 32 in 2010 to 4 at the moment. They have released funds that the government can invest in more effective family policies. Even today, children with disabilities continue to be accommodated in the 4 HMSCC and the impression remains that there is no alternative care for them.
On March 23, 2023, “Hope and homes for children – Bulgaria” organized Regional Conference “Eleven Years in Support of Children and Families”.
About our work, Georgi Simeonov, executive director of “Hope and homes for children – Bulgaria ” said:
“We set ourselves an ambitious goal – that Bulgarian babies do not suffer from the harm of institutional care. We found partners, developed effective tools in the deinstitutionalisation process. We stood close to families in crisis and gave them the confidence to take loving care of their children.”
“I am very proud of what HHC Bulgaria has achieved. Working with government agencies, local authorities and other non-governmental sector partners, we have helped remove 3,600 children from institutions, while preventing thousands more from being separated from their families.!
Bulgaria demonstrates that national reform is indeed possible.
Under the EU’s ‘Child Guarantee’ for the rights of the child and other European countries must take action on deinstitutionalisation.
This is important as 51,000 children in France continue to be locked up in institutions. 78,000 children in Germany, 8,400 in Belgium and 14,000 in the Netherlands.” – Mark Waddington, CEO of Hope and homes for children – UK
Pete Garratt, Director of Global Programs at HHC – UK presented the situation in Ukraine.
“105,000 children and youth are housed in various forms of institutions in Ukraine. 1.5% of all children in Ukraine are in some form of residential institution – one of the highest rates of institutionalisation of children in the world. Social services are exhausted and workers are leaving the country. Before them is the best model for dealing with children in institutions – the Bulgarian one”
Livia Marginean of “Hope and homes for children” Moldova shared that in 2010 there were 67 institutions for children, but with an active state policy there are now only 11. The lack of a sufficient number of social services slows down the pace of deinstitutionalisation in Moldova.
Dr. Steli Peteva from the Institute for Social Services in the Community presented the impact of “Hope and homes for children – Bulgaria” on people and processes during deinstitutionalisation for the past 11 years.
She described views of families who were supported materially, morally and logistically to prevent their children from being abandoned. Timely help and care for the whole family has led to overcoming crises, finding jobs for parents, repairing homes, health care for children and stabilization of family finances.
The model of closing institutions that “Hope and homes for children – Bulgaria” applies and develops in Bulgaria was also interesting, and it can be schematically marked as follows:
o Exploring the possibilities for children to return to their parents and for families to be prepared for this.
o Working with families before they abandon their children.
o Social services for children and families are being developed in the municipalities
o The buildings of the closed Homes for medical and social care for children are used according to the needs of the community
o The specialists from the closing institutions are trained and, if desired, start working in the new services.
This model also includes dozens of trainings for specialists from social services, regional and municipal administrations, which the organization has conducted over the years.
One of the main results is that, with its work, “Hope and homes for children – Bulgaria” has participated in the closure of 25 HMSCC and the overall vision of childcare in Bulgaria has changed.
At the Conference, effective solutions were discussed on how to use the resource of free foster families in Bulgaria and how to improve the access of children with disabilities to alternative care.
Children with disabilities are most often placed in institutions because there are not enough foster families for them, while at the same time there are more than 400 foster families available for healthy children. It is necessary to support morally these families in order to accommodate children who do not have a place in the institutions.
This issue also activated the most participants in the “Foster care – achievements and challenges” panel of the Conference, and they proposed the following solutions:
- Foster families should be appointed on permanent employment contracts.
- To develop a new financial standard for children with disabilities.
- Clear and high criteria for the selection of foster families.
- To carry out intensive information campaigns to recruit foster families.
- To have outsourced, mobile services for foster families of children with disabilities.
- To have foster families for persons who have reached the lawful age.
- One of the most important solutions is to reduce the number of children in alternative care. This is achievable by providing more services to families
One of the conference panels looked at independent (supported) living alternatives for children and young people in residential care. This service is not currently available in our country, but the next steps to be taken by the government are in this direction. If there is no vision for an independent life for children with disabilities who reach adulthood, then they will have to live again in groups of 6-8 people at best. The new steps should be aimed at supporting and young people living independently or in pairs.
In the discussion process, the following conclusions emerged:
o Social enterprises, social housing should be organized, which should be in a suitable environment.
o Offer training, consultation, advocacy and mediation for people with disabilities and social workers on the subject.
o To have access to rehabilitation and treatment.
o To be trained in work skills and to have day care to logistically support independent skills.
o Proper management of the currently existing funds can lead to independent living for many young people. The proposals are for efficient spending of state funds.
Experts of “Hope and homes for children – Bulgaria” took part in making re-assessments of the children placed in the last four Homes for medico-social care for children in the country. The results show that a part of the children can be brought out and it should happen. In family-type accommodation centers, including those with permanent medical care, there are also many children to take out in a family environment. This shows how important it is not to stop with reforms and to constantly focus on the people for whom the services were created, not on filling capacity.
Christian Holtet from Velux Foundations, Denmark received our “Professional with a passionate heart” award for overall contribution to childcare reform in Bulgaria.
“We are very proud of the work of our Bulgarian partners and what incredible successes they have achieved.”
They also discussed how Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) affects the market performance of enterprises. Successful examples from Bulgaria and the world and the challenges facing social partners in childcare reform were presented. Donation campaigns and transparent management of funds are only part of the commitments that must be presented to the public.
Congratulatory addresses at the beginning of the event were delivered personally by: Nataliya Efremova, Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Policy, Ivayla Kaserova, Deputy Chairperson of the State Agency for child protection, Ana Ananieva, Deputy Executive Director of Agency for social assistance, Dani Koleva from UNICEF Bulgaria.
We at “Hope and homes for children” have been saving the childhood of hundreds of children for 28 years. We help families raise their children at home, not in institutions. Our goal is, in the next decade, to spread the model from Bulgaria to more countries in the world and on all continents,” shared Mark Waddington, CEO of Hope and homes for children – UK.