CEE/CIS Regional Director advocates for more investments in families to protect the rights of most vulnerable children in Bulgaria
By Jacklin Tzocheva
SOFIA, Bulgaria 16 May, 2012 — The Regional Director for CEE/CIS, Ms. Marie Pierre Poirier, recently met the president, top cabinet ministers, civil society and key partners urging them to strengthen family support to realize the rights of the most vulnerable children in Bulgaria.
A key highlight of last week`s two-day visit was with the Bulgarian President, Mr. Rosen Plevneliev, to discuss the state policy for child protection, the need for investments and support for families, particularly in early childhood development.
“Politicians should not only spend public resources but invest them in targeted and long term initiatives,” President Plevneliev said. He added that he will personally support the creation of a business case for investments in early childhood development.
Bulgaria is a middle-income country in the European Union and is showing development and growth in many areas but huge inequities, gaps, and discrimination exists. Vulnerable children include those who live in poverty and those with disabilities. In the region of Eastern Europe and in Central Asia, these children – particularly those with disabilities - are institutionalised at the highest rates in the world.
But studies show that institutions are no replacements for the warm, personal care of parents and families. They can damage the health of infants and young children, who may even develop disabilities due to lack of social and intellectual stimulation. And without proper care, these children are vulnerable to neglect and abuse.
“Bulgaria’s progress is very encouraging and this working model should be documented and shared in order to encourage other countries with similar issues to adopt positive change,” said Ms. Poirier. “However, closing institutions is not sufficient. We need a strong emphasis on support to families at risk.”
Among Bulgaria`s desperately poor people, who are very much at risk of being denied their rights, are children from the Roma community. On a visit to a neighborhood in the capital Sofia, Ms. Poirier met and spoke with families and children as well as health mediators. They told the regional director that many children are deprived of their most basic rights to adequate living conditions such as water, sanitation, education and health. They also reported that many girls and young women are involved in prostitution and trafficking.
The importance of strengthening families was again emphasized during the second day of her trip at “St. Ivan Rilski”, which houses 60 infants. She noted how current institutions staff can play a role in future.
“Institutions can be transformed into support mechanisms for families. It is important for the staff from the institution to cooperate with the social workers to nurture contacts between the families and the children placed into residential care and to promote family reintegration,” Ms. Poirier said.
Linkages with the quality health care were also discussed with Minister of Health, Ms. Desislava Atanasova.
“Bulgaria is an excellent example of progress in implementing European Union standards. The next steps are developing and sharing methodologies to support families at risk and bring real change. I have no doubt that this is the most cost-effective option for the government to protect children's rights,” Ms. Poirier said. The minister confirmed the readiness of the Bulgarian Government to host an international conference on preventing all children, with focus on the youngest, to be placed in institutions.
Another important discussion was on the role of civil society with the National Network for Children, a coalition representing 103 non-governmental organizations working to promote child rights.
Ms. Poirier also met the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Nickolay Mladenov, and discussed Bulgaria-UNICEF’s next five-year cooperation, which starts in 2013. It will reflect priorities in line with the national and the Europe 2020 strategies.
The visit concluded with the official opening of the new UNICEF Bulgaria premises provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Mr. Mladenov was joined by Mr. Kalin Kamenov, the Chairperson of the State Agency for Child Protection, other UN agencies members, ambassadors, UNICEF programme partners and partners from private sector, celebrities and the media.