Sofia, November 21 (BTA) – Nearly 34 per cent of Bulgarian
children were at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2019,
according to a Eurochild report on “Europe’s Children in the Age
The report entitled “Growing Up in Lockdown: Europe’s children
in the age of COVID-19″ sums up information on 25 countries
gathered in August and September 2020 before the second wave of
the pandemic in Europe hit the economy and society.
The document is based on assessments provided by 42 members of
the organization in those 25 countries. The Bulgarian members
are: National Network of Children Bulgaria; For Our Children
Foundation Bulgaria; Hope and Homes for Children Bulgaria; CEDAR
Foundation; Social Activities and Practice Institute; and SOS
Children Villages Bulgaria.
The report on Bulgaria says that the divergence of opinions
expressed by the government and by scientists led to confusion
among the public. This situation was exacerbated by a lack of
clarity in the guidelines and regulations on how to react to the
COVID-19 crisis. Some NGOs had to adopt their own procedures
for working in a pandemic to respond to their clients’ needs.
The measures taken by the government such as the provision of
interest-free loans, financial compensation for employers or
food donations were mainly aimed at employers, poor families,
the unemployed and schools. Unfortunately, the majority of NGOs
will not be able to benefit from the 60/40 job retention scheme
because one of the conditions for receiving aid is to declare a
20 per cent reduction in sales revenue.
On the other hand, the members of the National Network for
Children (NNC) supported more than 6,500 children in 3,200
families with 4,404 food packages in March and April 2020. These
donations, which came from the emergency programmes and private
donors and amounted to 135,454 leva, provided food including
formula for newborns, medicines, disinfectants, PPE and various
social services. As part of the Old Devices for a New Beginning
initiative, those organizations distributed more than 400
electronic devices, to be used for remote classes by children in
poor families. Moreover, civil society organizations provided
round-the-clock help lines and other means of consultation.
Additional humanitarian support was given to 42 families by For
Our Children Foundation.
NNC’s members working with poor families reported that many
families needed to survive on 5-10 leva a day, which they earned
by collecting and selling herbs and plastic, window cleaning,
etc. The number of extremely poor families increased due to
lay-offs or forced unpaid leave. There is a real danger that
children who have been recently reintegrated into such families
will be abandoned again, the report says.
Progress on child protection and care reform
Bulgarian civil society organizations have been raising the
issue of the ineffectiveness of the Permanent Expert Working
Group on De-Institutionalisation (DI) for several years. The
group was established in 2010 to monitor the implementation of
the Action Plan on DI in Bulgaria, as well as to give
recommendations to the government about different aspects of the
DI process. However, so far it has only produced monitoring
reports, and has no access to information about the current
developments in DI reform or plans for the future.
According to the government’s plans, the assessment of the
children in the remaining institutions needs to be carried out
by the end of 2020. The deadline for training the staff in the
new small group homes and the medical staff in the maternity
wards is also planned until the end of 2020. These activities
are all part of the Agency for Social Assistance’s project under
Operational Programme Human Resources Development (2014-2020).
Given the corona crisis, it is expected these activities will be
delayed. Similarly, the process of closing down specialized
institutions has been stopped, including moving children from
institutions to small group homes or foster families. The new
Social Services Act (SSA) entered into force in July 2020
after a six months delay because there were many public disputes
and protests initiated by conservative groups. These protests
were suspended and the situation required effective solutions
that the new law ensures, according to the report.
The situation with institutional care in 2019 was as follows: no
institutions for children with disabilities, 13 institutions
for children, including 256 aged between 0 and 3, and
170 children over three years of age, and 268 small group homes
with 2,876 children (including young adults). In 2019 there were
6,496 children in family-based foster care and 4,548 children
in kinship care. The national adoptions were 500. The
unaccompanied minors in 2019 were 620 according to the State
Agency for Child Protection and 524 according to the State
Agency for Refugees.
There is no state policy with respect to care leavers in
Bulgaria, says the report. There is a general provision for
preparation of a care leaving plan, which in practice means a
meeting between a social worker and a care leaver to complete a
template. To address this, NGOs have programmes and projects
that aim to support care leavers and have been making
recommendations to the government for a holistic approach, with
no commitment on state level so far. During the current
pandemic, no services or support have been offered by the State
to care leavers, despite their vulnerability.
Children in migration
The National Network for Children Bulgaria publishes annual
Report Cards to assess the situation and well-being of children.
Its 2020 Report Card included the recommendation to optimize
the procedures for the transfer of information between the state
authorities in order to ensure reliability and accuracy in the
number of unaccompanied children.
In Bulgaria unaccompanied children are guaranteed 24-hour care,
provided by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
The opening of the Safe Zone is a positive development in
ensuring the safety and care of unaccompanied children. However,
the number of children who left before the end of their
procedure and on whose whereabouts there is no information
remains very high. According to data provided by the IOM, there
are 178 such children, which is 91 per cent of all children
accommodated in the Zone. Until the end of 2019, 196
unaccompanied children were accommodated there. According to
the Agency for Social Assistance, 16 unaccompanied children have
been accommodated in the social residential services. Due to
a lack of equal standards, the legal representation of
unaccompanied minors remains largely formal. The municipalities
have different practices: in one case 318 unaccompanied
children had one representative, while in another 147 children
had three representatives.
The report recommends that Bulgaria should take action to:
– keep families together, including re-integration to prevent
institutionalization of children, by engaging families,
professionals and communities in the process;
– establish more alternative services and family-based care for
children in vulnerable situations, as well as promote adoption
and fostering to guarantee that children aged 0-3 years will
grow up in a family environment;
– ensure that young people ageing-out of care will receive
adequate financial and personnel support to start their