The Action Plan for the implementation of the National Strategy “Vision for Deinstitutionalisation of Children in Bulgaria” 2016-2020 was officially adopted on 12 October 2016. It includes the following measures:
- social and integrated services for early intervention and prevention in family environment;
- family-based care for children deprived of parental care;
- gradual closure of the medico-social care homes for children 0-3 years old;
- access to social services and community support for children placed in homes, deprived of parental care and children leaving care;
- social and integrated medical and social services for children with disabilities;
- increased effectiveness of the system to ensure the rights of the children;
- infrastructure to support services for children.
The Action Plan foresees the creation of 149 community-based care settings and services for 7,092 children and families. This includes development of the 66 new community-based services, specifically:
- 23 new Community Support Centres in Community Centres for Children and Families;
- 27 new Day Care Centres for Children with Disabilities and their Families;
- 16 new Day Care Centres for Children with severe and multiple disabilities and their families.
In addition, 83 new community-based care settings across Bulgaria will be established including:
- 10 new Family Type Placement Centres (Small Group Homes);
- 28 new Transitional Homes for children aged 15-18;
- 17 Supervised Homes for young people aged 18-21;
- 20 new Centres for specialised medico-social care for children with disabilities (in need of constant medical care);
- 8 Centres for specialised medico-social care for children with high risk behaviours (and in need of special healthcare)
The Action Plan envisages repair works to imrove infrastructure in 49 already existing community-based services and settings such as FPTCs, Supervised Homes and more.
The Action Plan is funded by the national budget, the Operational Programme “Human Resources Development” and the Operational Programme “Science and Education for Smart Growth”.
The Opening Doors national coordinator in Bulgaria, National Network for Children (NNC), welcomes the fact that deinstitutionalisation continues to be one of the priorities in the national policies for children and families. It also encourages the fact that 2016-2020 Action Plan includes specific targets, measures, activities, responsible institutions and funding mechanisms.
At the same time, NNC expresses concern over the lack of holistic approach. In particular, NNC recognises the need towards integrated implementation of the “Vision for deinstitutionalisation” to address the needs of children and families across different sectorial policies such as healthcare, education, social policy and social protection. The current Plan proposes instead general developments and foresees changes mainly in the sector of child protection and services.
Before examination of the Action Plan by the Interagency Working Group, in a letter addressed to the Minister of Labour and Social Policy, Ms Zornitsa Rusinova, the National Network for Children recognised the following deficiencies of the 2016-2020 Action Plan:
- There is a lack of sufficient measures for primary services preventing the separation of children and families including measures for improving the effectiveness of the system for social assistance and housing provision for families at risk.
- Investments specified in the Action Plan are once again focused on improving infrastructure rather than enhancing capacity of the professionals working in the system.
- There is a lack of measures to imrpove the quality of care in the existing residential type care settings. The Family Type Placement Centers require a better trained staff, as well as development and implementation of the standards that will ensure safe and secure environment for children. It also requires a multi-sectoral approach from all the stakeholders as well as providing access to healthcare for all children growing up in FTPCs.
- The Action Plan does not provide vision and direction for the development of a financial mechanism for ring fencing the funds of the existing institutions for children to the new services for children and families. There is no clear plan on how to guarantee sustainability of the newly created services as part of the Action Plan and with support of the Structural Funds.
Finally, the National Network of Children is particularly concerned about deinstitutionalisation of children in conflict with the law who represent the high risk group and the lack of services targeting them in the Plan. Taking into consideration the fact that the 6 remaining boarding schools for children with delinquent behaviour by all means provide institutional care and that legislative reform in the area is ongoing, it is alarming to have such an omission.