Bulgaria has already started its path towards deinstitutionalisation (DI). The National Strategy for the Child 2008-2018 aims to decrease the number of institutions in the short term, as well as to create alternative types of care and to develop community-based social services. The Vision for DI of children in Bulgaria sets the country on course to close all its institutions by 2025 and replace them with family-based alternatives.
As a result, the number of children living in institutions is decreasing, falling from 6226 in 2011 to 2721 as of December 2014. Despite state commitments however, children are still entering institutional care. There are 975 young children growing up in infant homes – 36% of the overall number of children in institutions. There is also a significant increase in the number of children placed with foster parents – 2322 foster parents by the end of 2013 as compared to less than 100 in 2010.
DI reforms in Bulgaria present important challenges. Despite the reduced number of children entering institutional care and the increased number of children placed in foster care and other alternatives to large-scale institutions and residential care, the overall number of children in formal care has remained the same. There is little or no synergy between project-based interventions and other mainstream sector processes, which is hindering the effective implementation of the deinstitutionalisation process.
According to leading national NGOs, child poverty is one of the main reasons for the high rates of placement of children in institutions: 51.5% of the children in Bulgaria are at risk of poverty and social exclusion, while 78.2% of families with three or more children are living on less than 140 Euro per person per month. There is an urgent need to strengthen the child protection system, and to increase focus on preventive measures, family support and early intervention. Social workers play a key role in supporting children and families and preventing family separation. However, they currently have excessive caseloads, poor training and low pay resulting in low morale and poor outcomes for children and families at risk.
The involvement of local authorities, NGOs and other service providers is critical if the planning, implementation and monitoring of DI reforms planned under the next programme period of EU structural funds (2014-2020) is to be successful. NGOs have been pioneers in service development for several years and the Government needs to draw on this experience in the development of operations and application guidelines. Finally, the involvement of service users is fundamental to achieving successful outcomes for the people concerned.
 Agency for Social Assistance data: 1249 homes for children deprived of parental care + 497 children with disabilities + 975 infant homes = 2721