UNICEF calls for an end to placing children under three in residential care institutions in Bulgaria
SOFIA, 16 February 2012 - Bulgaria was urged to press forward in its reforms of the child care system focusing on ending the practice of placing children under three in residential care during a mission to the country by eminent French neuropsychiatrist, Mr. Boris Cyrulnik.
The visit is part of UNICEF’s campaign in support of the effort of governments in 22 Eastern and Central Asia countries and entities to reform their childcare systems.
UNICEF in Bulgaria held a workshop entitled Effect of Institutionalization of Young Children and their Post-institutionalization Care. The event was organised jointly with the Embassy of France in Bulgaria.
Data from global surveys and the Bulgarian experience with regard to the effects of residential placement on newborns was discussed by policy makers. Apart from Mr. Cyrulnik, speakers included Jean Claude Legrand, UNICEF Regional Child Protection Advisor, Darinka Yankova, Deputy Executive Director of the Bulgarian Agency for Social Protection, and Ruzha Simeonova, Head of the Rights of the Child Supervision Department with the State Agency for Child Protection, Neli Petrova-Dimitrova.
More than 80 policy makers and professionals attended the workshop and had the chance to discuss with UNICEF’s guest speakers issues related to early childhood development, prevention of abandonment and alternative care for children in institutions.
“Reform is needed to transform a system in which institutionalisation is the all-purpose response to a number of problems, including isolation and poverty, into a system, where community-based social work and social policies prevent family separation’, Jean Claude Legrand said.
As introduction to UNICEF’s challenges in Bulgaria, Mr.Cyrulnik visited “St. Ivan Rilski” infant home and had the opportunity to get deeper understanding of the quality of residential care in Bulgaria and the situation of children deprived of parental care. There were 75 children placed in the infant home, aged up to three years old. Despite the facts that they were properly taken care of and conditions were good, there was a lack of emotional engagement between the staff and the children, the mission found. A small boy, mindlessly rocking to and fro, was obviously showing signs of "grave affection deficiency," Cyrulnik said. "The major issue for a child is isolation," he added.
"The staff cannot do much more than what they do in this type of institution," UNICEF's Jean-Claude Legrand said. Children should be placed in foster care or raised in small family type homes , before durable solutions be identified for each of them Legrand recommended.
Mr. Cyrulnik also visited the University Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital “Maichin Dom” in Sofia in order to get an overview of health services and conditions for mothers and babies in the country. The visit demonstrated lack of proper mechanism for ensuring preventive work, lack of social workers (only one for 4000 births a year), limited engagement of medical staff to facilitate access to vulnerable mothers, lack of social work follow up of vulnerable mothers after leaving maternity hospital, and etc. The next stop of his visit was a meeting with children in the Roma community in Sofia, where he discussed issues related to abandonment of children with local people and NGOs working in the field. He also joined a meeting of foster parents in Sofia Regional Foster Care Centre and advised them on the support and care they provide to the children placed with them.
On 15th February Mr. Cyrulnik, who is lecturer at the Toulon University in France, delivered a public lecture on the resilience approach at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”. The lecture was attended by over 100 students and young professionals in the field of psychology, pedagogy and social work.
On the list of priorities, UNICEF’s Programme in Bulgaria aims to promote deinstitutionalisation by working directly with municipalities to ensure that networks of alternative community-based social, health and educational services and family substitute are planned and established. The Bulgarian government has also joined the campaign by introducing a provision prohibiting the placement of children under 3 in institutions in the new draft Child Act. Mr. Jean-Claude Legrand advised that this commitment needs a clear milestone date for introduction, because the 15 years deadline in the Vision for De-institutionalization in Bulgaria does not provide sufficient incentives for reform and guarantees for accomplishment.
In 2012 more than 7000 children still live in 127 institutions. About 2000 of them are below the age of three. Every day an average of 3 children are placed in institutions.