How UNICEF supports children in three key areas
Brains grow to 80% of adult size by age 3 and to 90% by age 5! The quality of early experiences is crucial for the entire human life. This is why early childhood is such a critical window of opportunity. Adequate support during early years can improve life chances, particularly of the most vulnerable children.
In Bulgaria, 83% of the children 0-2 years of age are raised in their families and only 17% attend public facilities (nurseries). Thus, healthy child development during the first 3 years depends on the quality of care and relationships with parents and other caregivers.
How UNICEF supports children and parents
UNICEF aims to ensure that all children, especially the most vulnerable, from conception to age of school entry, develop to their full potential. Efforts focus on:
- supporting healthy child development during the first 1,000 critical days (the period from conception to age 2);
- supporting early identification of developmental delays and supporting interventions for inclusion of children with developmental difficulties and disabilities.
- Critical aspects of the work is focused on the most important people in children’s lives – parents and other primary caregivers.
What has been done:
- With the strong support of UNICEF, Bulgaria ensured that early childhood development became a focus of EU policies
- More than 1,500 parents of young children in 50 different cities/villages, including parents of children with disabilities , received support for positive parenting through the program “Let’s grow-up together. Workshops for parents”.
- 12,400 caregivers of 15,000 children up to 3 years (70% of all children at this age in the region of Shumen and Sliven) received individualized guidance, information and support for nurturing caregiving.
- A sustainable parent support web-site with useful information for caregivers was created and continues to be updated.
Thousands of children in Bulgaria are still not enrolled in the education system. Despite the institutions' efforts to bring children back to school, over 20,000 children drop out of school or go abroad annually. More than 14,000 of them are between 1st and 7th grade. Although there is no official statistics on children with disabilities, an estimated 10,000 are children with different abilities who do not attend kindergarten or school.
How UNICEF supports children
- Support to enhancement of policies for early inclusive education and promotion of kindergarten as a key element of inclusive education.
- Support for development of new skills among teaching and non-teaching staff in kindergartens to work with children with special needs and active interaction with children, creating a comprehensive inclusive climate in the group and in the kindergarten;
- Provision of specialized support for kindergartens by a psychologist, speech therapist, teacher's assistant and resource teacher to ensure early intervention in learning difficulties;
What has been done:
Within the framework of Together from Kindergarten project supported by UNICEF :
- 35 kindergartens in Sofia, Shumen, Sliven and Montana made their first steps towards better quality pre-school education for children with special needs
- Over 5,000 children received support and daily access to a psychologist and speech therapist.
- More than 500 teachers, assistant educators and 72 specialists participated in specialized trainings in the field of inclusive education
- 960 children underwent a screening test for learning disabilities, allowing early identification of their needs for support.
Over one-third of all pupils share that they have become victims of violence or bullying, of physical and verbal aggression at school at least once during the past year. According to the Ministry of Education and Science, over 8,000 cases of bullying and violence are recorded annually in the schools for the past three years.
How UNICEF supports children
UNICEF is working on a pilot program, together with the Ministry of Education, for the prevention of violence at school. The selection process of the schools that will participate in the programme has been launched. The expected results in the next two years are:
- 3,500 children will receive support;
- 300 children will be trained to provide peer support;
- 300 teachers and other pedagogical specialists will receive support to deliver social-emotional learning programmes, to more effectively interact with parents, to implement peaceful conflict resolution approaches;
- 3500 parents will participate in parents-teachers clubs and will be trained in parenting skills seminars.
- A whole-school approach towards safe environment will be implemented in 5 pilot schools.