Bulgaria’s first Child Advocacy Center opens in Montana

14.09.2015 12:53


The service was established with the support of UNICEF and bTV, in partnership with the Social Activities and Practices Institute and Montana municipality

14 September 2015, Montana - Bulgaria’s first Child Advocacy Center was opened in Montana. It provides, in an innovative way, services for children who are victims of violence and crimes, combining good judicial, medical, psychological and social practices, placing the child in the center of all their efforts. The Child Advocacy Center has been created thanks to the donations raised during the campaign of the United Nations Children’s Fund “Sentenced to life without childhood”, which received broad media support. The functioning of the service is going to be possible and sustained with the contribution of bTV and the tens of thousands of UNICEF’s donors who became part of the joint effort against violence against children during the charity telethon called “A Future without violence for every child”. It was broadcasted in January 2015. The Child Advocacy Center is the result of the combined effort of UNICEF, the Social Activities and Practices Institute (SAPI) and Montana municipality in partnership with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Agency for Social Assistance.

“The most important goal that we are trying to achieve with the Child Advocacy Center is to break the vicious cycle of violence. We work with the most vulnerable children and rely on our partners as it is essential that we protect and give them wings so that there is a future without violence for every child”, said Ms. Milena Harizanova, UNICEF Bulgaria’s Child Protection Specialist at the opening ceremony.

The Child Advocacy Center provides incessant support and advocacy for children victims of violence and their families throughout the whole working process on their cases - from the moment a case of violence is reported, through the beginning of investigation, to the finalization of the process of recovery and returning to the daily rhythm of the child and his/her family’s life. Each critical intervention and advocacy, medical services, consultations, informing and preparation for the participation in the pre-legal and legal proceedings are coordinated by the Child Advocacy Center.

“UNICEF and bTV’s partnership began many years ago and the most important thing is that together we’ve been achieving real results for children. I’m proud to be a part of this campaign and would like to thank all of bTV’s viewers and UNICEF’s 23 000 pledge donors who took part in our joint cause” said Ms. Mariana Vekilska, one of the main supporters and advocates in the campaign and host of bTV’s weekend talk show.

It is not by chance that Montana is the ‘host’ of the first Child Advocacy Center. Back in July 2014, a “Blue room” (specialized child-friendly hearing facility) was established there with the support of UNICEF. In addition – Montana’s Regional Court was the first in Bulgaria to adopt the “Internal rules for the use of specialized facility for hearing and interviewing of children for the purposes of civil and criminal proceedings”.  In less than a year, there have already been 7 hearings. In comparison to the experience from the other 12 cities that host a Blue room, those 7 cases of child-friendly interviews mark a significant progress during that period – the first year of the facility’s functioning.

“Montana encompasses a wide spectrum of social services. This new Child Advocacy Center focuses on the most vulnerable boys and girls. UNICEF and their partners’ success is going to be a success for all of us”, said Mr. Zlatko Zhivkov, Montana municipality’s Mayor during the opening of the Child Advocacy Center. 

Two more Child Advocacy Centers are going to open by the end of year 2015 - one in the capital Sofia and one in Shumen. The centers will be working on all types of violence against children, with their families, including cases of abuse that were committed in the past, as well as such which are happening currently. The service will assist children witnesses of violence and will support the parent who has been a victim of abuse in the process of ending the violence, recovery and the improvement of their capacity to take care of their child – with a focus on the child’s safety and best interest. The Child Advocacy Centers also offer legal accompanying of the child and the abused parent in order to ensure a family environment without violence for the child.

The model for the provision of integrated services for children and their families has been developed by UNICEF, the Social Activities and Practices Institute and Animus Association. 

Why the child advocacy center is essential for children and their families: 
The Child Advocacy Center is a step towards a more effective guarantee of the rights of children who have suffered or witnessed violence and crime. The accompanying, the cooperation for a friendly hearing, the support in order to overcome the consequences of a traumatic experience are just a part of the measures we are obliged to take in order to provide adequate care towards children’s needs.

This is not merely a moral but also a judicial obligation in accordance to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and numerous European directives. The efforts for the realization of these obligations should be supported and that is why it is crucial that changes in the Penal Procedure Code are made. These changes should provide procedures adapted towards the needs of the child and should be exercised by trained professionals. It is up to the political will of the policy makers whether the most vulnerable participants in the criminal procedure – the children, will be granted fair treatment that supports, recovers and brings a sense of justice, instead of victimizing them again every single time they are in contact with the judicial, law-enforcement and  protection systems.

Additional information:

-  BGN 70 000 of the raised funds during the “Sentenced to life without childhood” campaign (that took place in April 2014) were invested for the full refurbishment of  the Child Advocacy Center.

- According Montana’s regional department of the Agency for Social Assistance, 29 cases of violence were reported to the child protection units in 2014, and 20 of them are actual cases of violence that the professionals have worked on.

- During the first half of 2015 (up until 30.06.2015), the reports on violence directed to Montana’s child protection department are 13, and the cases of actual violence that have been worked on are 4.

- 26 children from the region of Montana and 4 others from other regions have been placed in a Crisis Center in 2014.

- During the first half of 2015 (up until 30.06.2015), the number of children who are victims of violence and have been places in a Crisis Center are 13.

About UNICEF:  
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do.  Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.  

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UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. To save their lives. To defend their rights. To help them fulfill their potential. Across 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, every day, to build a better world for everyone. And we never give up.