Child protection and social inclusion
© UNICEF Bulgaria/2013/Pirozzi
UNICEF in Bulgaria works for the prevention of separation of children from their families; prevention of violence and abuse of children; support for social inclusion of children and families.
According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, every child has the rights to know, to live with and to be in contact with both of his or her parents, and not to be separated from them – as long as this is not in contrast with his or her best interest. The states who are signatories to the Convention are obligated to support the parents, especially those in need, in order for them to be able to take good care of their children. For the children who are separated from their parents, the states are obligated to provide social care, to develop alternative forms of care by prioritizing the care provided in a family-type of environment.
Every child has the right to protection from all types of violence or abuse, as states are obligated to develop measures and services for protection. Such measures and services include programs to support children and their caregivers, as well as many other forms of prevention, identifying, reporting, referring, investigating, tracking of various cases of abuse (described above), and if needed – the judiciary should be involved as well.
Children from vulnerable families and marginalized communities; children who are excluded from a fulfilling social life are faced with many challenges and inabilities to reach their full potential. Too often the social exclusion starts with the very birth of a child, and poverty is being inherited and passes from generation to generation. The meaningful support for those children and the realizing of their rights requires tackling the core roots of exclusion.
Data by the National Statistical Institute from 2013 indicate that 51% of children in Bulgaria are living at risk of poverty, which limits their access to education, healthcare, opportunities for development, as well as violates their basic rights.
Poverty is actually one of the main reasons for separation of children from their families and for placement under various forms of alternative care. As of the end of 2014, 12 936 children were living apart from their parents in the country – annually some 4000 children are being separated from their families. 2724 from them live in specialized institutions for residential care. Nearly 1000 children under the age of 3 continue to inhabit such institutions in this most critical period for their development. Despite the decline in the number of children raised in residential care since the year 2000, in the last 5 years the share of children being annually separated from their parents remains relatively constant. There is a decrease in the number but increase in the share of children with disabilities among those placed in specialized care. The quality of some of the forms of alternative care are still below the adequate standards.
Data by the Agency for Social Assistance and the State Agency for Child Protection show that 1788 children have been affected by crime in 2014; 1989 were the reported cases of children victims of violence referred to the departments for child protection. Most common are the cases of violence that occur at the home of a child. A large share of such cases remain under-reported and hidden behind closed doors due to social attitudes that tolerate the moderate forms of corporal punishment used to “educate” and raise children, as well as the mistrust towards children’s stance and opinions; the lack of specialized services for children victims of violence; and judicial proceedings for interviewing and evidence-gathering that are child-unfriendly.
The support provided by UNICEF Bulgaria in the area of child protection and social inclusion since 2006 includes:
:: Development of integrated system for child protection
Those activities involve the conducting of analyses, the provision of technical assistance, the implementation of trainings and the hiring of social workers in the departments for child protection – with the goal of strengthening the capacity of the system for child protection so that it could apply individual approach to every child. That approach should be based on the child’s personal needs and rights and their connection to the relevant areas of health care, social assistance, education, law-enforcement, judiciary.
:: Planning and implementation of policies towards child protection and de-institutionalization
The activities include redirection of technical support, conducting of researches, support for the exchange of experience with other countries and the planning, implementation and monitoring of strategies, policies and programs that are connected to:
- child protection;
- family support;
- social inclusion;
- prevention and protection from violence.
UNICEF also provides support for the revision of piece of legislation, as well as analysis regarding the financing and its more efficient and effective use in the sphere of child protection.
:: Development of network of social services for children and families:
The activities include:
1. Provision of technical assistance and trainings for the creation of methodology and the conducting of situation analyses, the development of regional and municipal strategies for social services and monitoring of their implementation (at the moment this is actively being done in the three regions of the country identified as most vulnerable – Montana, Sliven and Shumen).
2. Development of services for support of children and families:
- A Complex of social services for children and families in the municipality of Vidin (North Western Bulgaria). It comprises of Center for societal support, Center for work with children on the street and a Supervised Protection Home (finished);
- Family-consultative centers in the municipalities of Shumen and Montana;
- Child centers for advocacy and support “Protection Zone” focused on children victims of violence in the municipalities of Montana, Shumen and Sofia;
- Services for children in conflict with the law – Center for intensive socio-educational support – Sliven; Center for psychological support – Sliven; Supervised Protection Home – Sliven; Center for societal support – Novi Pazar; Center for work with children on the street – Kotel; mentoring programs – Sliven;
3. Development of forms and services for alternative care of children:
- Methodology and program for training of teams dedicated to foster care, as well as foster care centers in 9 regions of the country (finished);
- Methodology and Family-type of centers for children and adolescents in the municipalities of Varna, Dve Mogili, Ruse, Sofia, Teteven (finished).
:: Closing of specialized institutions
The activities include:
1. Provision of technical assistance and training for planning and coordination of the process of closing of the residential institutions; individual evaluation and personal reference of the children and their families; analysis of the needs; establishment of services to support children and families; monitoring of the process for the closing of the State home for children and youth with mental disabilities in the village of Mogilino and in the Home for medical and social care in Shumen.
2. Provision of technical assistance and training for planning and coordination of the process of closing of the residential institutions; individual evaluation and personal reference of the children and their families; analysis of the needs; establishment of services to support children and families, monitoring of the process, trainings for improving of the quality of work and care for the children in Socio-educational boarding school in the town of Straldzha (region of Yambol), the village of Dragodanovo (region of Sliven), the village of Varnentzi (the region of Silistra).
:: Change of social norms
The activities include the conducting of national and local campaigns for:
- informing general public, relevant stakeholders about the effects of separation of children from their families, their raising in institutions, the symptoms and consequences of violence against children, the challenges that children at risk, vulnerable families and communities are faced with;
- popularizing of the services and programs in support for children at risk and vulnerable families;
- creation of tolerant and accepting social attitudes and behaviors.
UNICEF in Bulgaria works in partnership with Government, local authorities, civil society, business, media, communities, families, children and youth.