4 October 2019, Sofia – On 3and 4 October, UNICEF Bulgaria and the National Network for Children, in partnership with the Ministry of labor and social policy, organized a conference on early childhood intervention and support to children with disabilities and developmental difficulties.
The conference contributes to the commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. Through ratification of the CRC, countries commit to guarantee health, development, education and protection for every child.
During the 2-day conference, discussions were centered around early childhood intervention and how the support provided in the first years of life, can help children with disabilities and developmental difficulties and their parents in achieving development of the child’s full potential. The human brain develops at the fastest pace in the early years after a child’s birth and the child’s potential to learn during this time is remarkable!
It is at this time when, early childhood intervention can improve functional skills and learning, mitigate the effects of the disability, and enable the child’s participation in all spheres of life. This conference discussed different activities with the child including games and further explored different ways of developing their skills and abilities in everyday life of the family with the help of different experts – rehabilitation therapist, ergo-therapist, psychologist, speech therapist, music therapist among others.
The conference emphasized the critical need to support parents enabling them to play their key role as the most important adults in the child’s life who contribute most to their development.
‘Children with disabilities and developmental difficulties have significant abilities that must be supported to develop fully. Early childhood intervention services can enhance child development if they are family-centered and support child learning in its natural environment – home, playground, nursery or kindergarten’, said Dr. Jane Muita, UNICEF Representative in Bulgaria.
The conference aims to gather institutions, experts and parents; to encourage the implementation of a more systematic evidence-based approach to early childhood intervention in Bulgaria based on the social model of disability instead of the medical model, with relevance to the overall policy as well as to practice.
Parents of children with developmental difficulties pointed out the benefits of the early childhood intervention services and the importance of the support from experts. ‘I have learned to appreciate every little progress of my older son. I realized I am not alone, and my child is not the only one’, said Steliana Charakova, mother of two boys, aged 2 and 4. Dessislava Dimitrova also noted how early childhood intervention services helped her 3-year-old son. ‘After 7 months my child started to smile and to socialize. At home, we also manage to do better’, she added.
In Bulgaria, a lot of important steps towards supporting children with disabilities and developmental difficulties in the early years and their parents have been taken.
‘In 2020, we are planning to invest 15 million leva for early childhood intervention under the EU’s Operational Programme for Human Resources’, announced Zornitza Rusinova, Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Policy.
‘In the coming years, we would like to see extension of the network of services so that the needs of each family, taking care of a child with disabilities or developmental difficulties are met. As a society, we are obliged to support parents to raise their children and offer them а dignified life’, said Georgi Bogdanov, Executive Director of the National Network for Children.
Bulgarian national experience and the progress in the policies supporting children with disabilities and developmental difficulties were presented at the conference. Opportunities to enhance the early detection of developmental difficulties, evaluation, offering quality early intervention services, and improving interinstitutional relations to support children and their families were also discussed.
Ana Maria Serano from the University of Minho, Portugal, and head of the European Association for early childhood intervention, shared the successful establishment of the early childhood intervention national system in Portugal.
Key experts participating in the conference also included Manfred Pretis from the Medical School in Hamburg, Germany, and Svetlana Angelova and Nikoleta Yoncheva from Karin dom Foundation in Varna.