Sustainable models for supporting children and families and eliminating institutional care

Hope and Homes for Children – Bulgaria in partnership with the non-profit association “Equilibrium” organized a round table on “Sustainable Models for Supporting Children and Families and eliminating Institutional Care”, which was held on 15th of November 2022 at 14:30 in the Regional History Museum Ruse, Battenberg Hall.

The round table was opened by Georgi Simeonov, Executive Director of HHC – Bulgaria. He highlighted the excellent work of everyone to reduce the number of abandoned children. The way authorities and NGOs work together leads to no children being placed in homes for medical and social care of children in other cities.

This is strong evidence of how alternatives can be found for children, but there must be the will to solve any problem and to cause the least trauma to children.” In order not to seek institutional placements, it is necessary to clearly outline future problems and ways to solve them.” – Galina Bisset explained how foster parents were sought when foster care was little known in the country, how they were trained to take in children with disabilities and how the parents of these children were supported to see that they could cope with their daily needs. She also pointed out that without the establishment of adequate social services in the community, there is no way for families to feel secure about dealing with problematic situations. The Complex for Social Services has provided strong support in the closure of the baby home in Russe. Svetla Mezhri, Director of the Complex for Social services in Russe, recalled how they had created an “Emergency Reception” unit, where mothers were placed and cared for their children together with the specialists there, and this proved to be a successful practice to avoid separating of the families.

The aim of the Round Table was to share good practices in family support work. To examine the mechanisms for interaction and opportunities for improving coordination between all partners involved in the process of reforming the child protection system. How it can function without the presence of institutions and always look for alternatives in a family environment and social service provided in the community.

Elena Petkova, national expert on child policies, recalled the role of the District DI Coordination Mechanism in solving the problem of housing, employment of a parent, etc. The Active family support is still key to ensure that no children are abandoned. Most families who are desperate due to lack of resources and their children are suffering need to get quick and adequate help to cope. This tool is also familiar to most Child Protection Departments workers, and this allows for assistance to be comprehensive, timely, focused and directed towards families also to make efforts to overcome crises.

Milena Vlahova, current director of the Regional Directorate for social assistance Ruse and Tatyana Doncheva, former director of the Regional Directorate for social assistance during the period of the removal of the children from the baby home in Ruse, compared how with active work from 2000 abandonments of babies nationwide in 2012 the number has decreased to less than 200 to-date. In 2021 not a single baby was abandoned in Russe. Both highlighted how abandonments have dropped sharply since the closure of the institution. “Somehow the institution seems to encourage abandonment of children” There is hesitation most often in cases of children born with disabilities. Parents fear that they will not be able to care for them and although they love them tend to abandon them. In this situation, “Little sun” United Children’s Services in Ruse comes to the rescue, where children with multiple health issues are placed with their parents. “This is how we teach them how to take care of the children, what medical manipulations they need and that they will be able to cope in their homes. So, the children return home, the parents are supported, and we have not broken the family bonding,” said Milena Nedelcheva, director of the Family type placement center for children with disabilities and need of permanent medical care.

Radostina Peykova, Head of the Health Activities Department at Ruse Municipality, acknowledged the contribution of Hope and Homes for Children – Bulgaria and Equilibrium association to the high level of services for children in the municipality and their role in training many people who still apply what they have learned in their work. “Many of the innovative approaches were introduced by you and without you the process of deinstitutionalisation would have been painful for the children.”

Denitsa Ivanova, head of the Child Protection Department in Ruse, talked about the times when the specialists were in difficulty and how useful it is to have such partners.

The round table was attended by representatives of the Home for Medical and Social Care for children in Varna and social workers from the Child Protection Departments in Pleven and Varna, where the baby homes (two of the last 4 remaining in the country, whose closure and restructuring are imminent) are still operating. They were given the opportunity to learn how the services in Ruse operate, to see the children, to communicate with specialists and to get advice on how to start working without relying on the institutions.

The concerns of the social workers from Varna were related to the fact that the tracking of early pregnancies in small settlements can lead to abandonments and that there are not enough foster families, but in Ruse there is a small number of families which are enough to cope as of today. The policy there is a short stay of children in foster care and a quick and permanent solution to the problems of biological families. The concerns of the professionals are related to making the right decisions, and this requires having partners to train them, encourage them and seek solutions within the family.

In an informal conversation, a social worker from the baby home in Varna – “If a child with disabilities comes to us, we can push to get the child a Labour expert medical commission certificate within a month. For comparison the parents will manage for 12 months.”

If the child is in a baby home, he or she will have to spend at least 18 months without his or her parents in order to be brought out. This is time lost for both the child and the parents!

Why does a sick child need to be isolated from the society or relatives, or the family?

Why is it necessary for parents to miss the opportunity to learn to cope with their child’s illness for a year and a half?

Why do we also need to inflict psychological or mental trauma that we have to heal later?

This explains the need new health and social services to be built where the child does not need to be separated from the parents and the specialists working in the baby home will be able to apply their experience and knowledge, but in support of the family.

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