At the request of the Children’s Participation Programme of Hope and homes for children – Bulgaria a meeting was held on 7 November at the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy with Elka Nalbantova, Deputy Minister.
Our Youth Program aims to build young people with a sense and critical thinking on respecting the rights of the child and practically become advocates for those children who are deprived of a home, family or for some health and other reasons remain “invisible” to society. In their role as advocates, they meet with government and UN representatives. With the help of the responsible institutions, concrete solutions are also sought to pressing problems.
The requested meeting was to present their views on the policies in place for the development of children in our country and to tell how they feel children’s rights are respected. The children elaborated on their views on any progress our country is making in the areas of education, health and inclusion of children with disabilities in public life. The clear direction for every child to live in a family environment, with the closure of the Homes for medical and social care for children, fills them with optimism, but their concern is the slowdown of these processes in the last three years. Time is the greatest enemy because it does not wait for us and it passes. Children grow up and from 10 years old they have become 13 and their thinking has also changed. In their families they are already talking about where they are going to study, what sports they are going to play, what profession they are going to choose. This is the family – the natural place for every child where they receive love and the opportunity to develop their abilities and dream.
What happens to children who grow up without a family environment? Is it fair? Why does our society allow hundreds of children in Bulgaria to be deprived of their dreams? What is and will the Government do for these children?
Participants in our Child Participation Program, as advocates and voices for the institutionalized, synthesized their inquiry to two questions:
– “Why haven’t the last 4 Homes for medical and social care for children been closed and when will this happen?” There are more than 200 children living in them who also suffer from institutional care.
They presented to Deputy Minister Nalbantova the world studies on how the nervous system of children who are not raised in families changes and what are the consequences for society. They told her about their encounter with a wooden, cot from a closed Home for medical and social care for children that had been gnawed by children’s teeth. This cot has been touched by the agony to children in 21st century Bulgaria and they are probably their age. So this is why the question “Why haven’t the last 4 Homes for medical and social care for children been closed and when will this happen?” is very important.
– The second question, “What are the alternatives for children living in family-type accommodation centres?” is also on the agenda in our society. Due to the lack of foster families, these children and young people have no alternative at this stage other than being placed in an institution for life.
The participants shared their impressions of their visits to the Family type accommodation center for children with disabilities. Beautiful buildings, polite staff, equipped halls, but something is missing!
Individual approach, dreams and family are missing. These children are not found in the streets, parks and gardens. The MLSP should offer a new approach so that those placed in the Family type accommodation center for children with disabilities can also move towards independent living. The solutions are – more staff, alternative care and the right to develop everyone’s individual abilities.
The children and young people stressed the importance of all of us contributing to the better emotional development of those in alternative care and looking for ways to share this with everyone. Mrs. Elka Nalbantova encouraged the participants to pass on their experiences to other children. To look for joint initiatives with schools and to attract new supporters. She also said that she will also start asking the question about improving the care in the Family type accommodation center for children with disabilities to the Agency for social assistance, who were also part of the meeting.
At the end, the children and youth from the program presented their work – the Alternative Child Report sent to the UN and the Good Child Helper Booklet.
Deputy Minister Elka Nalbantova suggested that the Children’s Participation Programme be involved in the development of a Child Strategy with answers to several questions.
The Ministry wished to meet again in 2024 and see how the issues raised were addressed.