New Family Counselling Center opened in Shumen
SHUMEN, Bulgaria, 20 September 2011 - The first Family Counselling Center for Infants and Parents was opened in the city of Shumen today owing to funds raised by Magnificent Six 2 charity show.
The opening ceremony was attended by Mrs. Diana Vakarelska, Social Policy Expert at UNICEF Bulgaria; Mr. Krassimir Kostov, Mayor of Shumen; Mrs. Ralitsa Todorova, Shumen's Regional Governor; and Mr. Sedat Kadiev, Deputy Mayor, in charge of social activities.
"The launch of this Center is an extremely important step in the deinstitutionalization of children from medical and social care institutions. UNICEF Bulgaria sees deinstitutionalization as a long-term process for it is our conviction that it is parents who shall be responsible for child raising. Hence the Center that has been established to support parents in the fulfilment of this responsibility and thus ensure a better future for children", said Mrs. Diana Vakarelska, Social Policy Expert of UNICEF Bulgaria.
A year after the start of the Magnificent Six 2 fund-raising show that BTV produced jointly with UNICEF, practically half of the children from the Shumen institution are brought up in families. The donations of BTV televiewers prevented the institutionalization of 14 children and helped deinstitutionalize 53 children. Of these 17 children were adopted; 6 children were reintegrated into their biological families; one child is in an extended family; and 27 children are in foster care. The 20 children who have been institutionalized since January 2011 account for a 50% reduction in institutionalization. Currently the total number of institutionalized children is 62 whereas in October 2010 it was 107.
The Family Counselling Center for Infants and Parents was opened in partnership with Shumen Municipality which provided space free of charge. UNICEF invested BGN 170,000 in the Center. Such centers will open in early 2012 in the municipalities Novi Pazar and Vurbitsa.
The Family Counselling Center is an innovative integrated service comprising social work, healthcare and education. The Center will provide counselling, individual and group support to families with babies and infants at risk. Mothers and fathers could attend a School for Parents to acquire parental skills. The Center will train adolescents and young people for family life by counselling them on family planning and contraception.
The Center's main focus is on the prevention of child abandonment and institutionalization. Mobile teams of experts will spot families with children at risk of abandonment, refer pregnant women at risk to obstetric care and counselling and offer them support and work to raise health awareness in communities at risk.
The 10-member Shumen Center staff will comprise social workers, social assistants, a nurse and a psychologist.
About the "Family for Every Child" Project
The project "Family for Every Child" started in 2010 in partnership between UNICEF, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, the State Agency for Child Protection, the Social Assistance Agency, Shumen's Regional Governor and Shumen Municipality.
The project is financed by the funds raised by the broadcasting of the BTV Magnificent Six 2 charity show, the Bulgarian Government's donation and UNICEF contribution.
The project's objective is to ensure family care for infants from the Shumen Medical and Social Institution; to promote an innovative model of integrated service to support families at risk in the region whereon children under the age of three are institutionalized; to support the local authorities in their capacity building effort and to strengthen the child support system in the best interest of the child.
The infant institution in Shumen will be closed down. The model that UNICEF will develop with the project's funding will be incorporated into the legislation seeking to provide Government financing to roll out all baby institutions in Bulgaria and to find a family for every child.
Achievements so far
All infants were subjected to a psychological and health screening in January-September 2011. The analyses showed that the main cause for their retarded speech or physical development was the unavailability of individual care and encouraging home atmosphere.
Meanwhile social workers from the Complex for Social Services for Children and Families with the Shumen Municipality and the Child Protection Departments assessed the families of children as they interviewed parents and visited the family homes to inspect before they take a decision to the best interest of the child.
The social problems that confront families are the main cause (70%) for child abandonment. The prevailing justification was: poverty, no home, unemployment lack of education and professional skills. Unwanted pregnancy accounts for 5 to 10% of the abandonment by women who are predominantly under-aged and single mothers. A child's desperately poor health weighed in the parental decision in 15% of the cases of institutionalization.
Since April 2011 the Complex for Social Services for Children and Families with the Shumen Municipality has been working to prevent abandonment. Specially trained social workers counsel pregnant women and mothers who are seen as likely to abandon their children and encourage them not to abandon the children. 72 mothers were advised and counselled till September 2011 in the Maternity Ward.
A UNICEF-funded Regional Foster Care Center has been operating in Shumen Region since 2009 to advance activities within the Family for Every Child Project. Owing to the Center social workers' effort nine babies received foster family care straight from the maternity hospital by September 2011.
The family counselling centers will be one of the services to be developed within the project. The Shumen Center is the pioneer. The selection of staff is under way. The team will start working in October and attend specialized training courses.
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