Bringing basic services to Roma communities:

How mobile teams support disadvantaged children in accessing health and education services

Семейството на Мария-Магдалена я прегръща
UNICEF Bulgaria/2022
07 January 2022

Maria-Magdalena is from the town of Sredets, in the Burgas Region of Bulgaria. In the spring of 2021 this seven year old girl left her home and small garden. She and her mother were accompanied to the city center to visit a medical specialist, which was the first medical examination of the little girl  in her young life. In September 2021,  she was enrolled in first grade at school, and she is making good progress and a lot of new friends.

Maria-Magdalena is among the more than 1,200 children who have received support from the mobile teams working with vulnerable communities, established under the EU Child Guarantee Pilot Project in Bulgaria. The project is funded by the European Commission and is implemented with the support from UNICEF. Since the early spring of 2021, the little girl and her family have been receiving support and counselling from the new mobile team at the Community Support Centre in Sredets.

Мария-Магдалена тръгва на училище с подкрепата на Европейската гаранция за детето и УНИЦЕФ
UNICEF Bulgaria/2022

Maria-Magdalena had never been to the doctor before the mobile team came and met with her family. When the professionals arrived at Maria-Magdalena’s home they realised that the child has had a physical problem since birth. Elena, the social worker at the mobile team, noted that her parents were so worried they would not let her attend kindergarten out of fear of ridicule and because of her health issue, not knowing exactly what was wrong with their child. For the same reasons Maria-Magdalena was not able to play with other children.

With the help of the team she was examined by specialized doctors in Burgas, and for the first time her parents learned that her health issue  was due to the absence of a major muscle in the chest (pectoralis major). Doctors assured the family that this issue should not prevent their child from engaging in everyday activities, going to school or playing with friends and they provided medical guidance on the specific care needed to improve her condition.

Her parents then decided to enroll their daughter in school, but were faced with another challenge – she was not properly prepared for first grade as she had never been to kindergarten. 

‘Therefore, we came up with a special programme for school readiness and we invited all children and families we work with to take part if they wanted. ‘Several children benefitted from the programme, and not only first-graders’.

Elena, social worker at the Center for community support in the town of Sredets
Мария-Магдалена учи с подкрепата на социален работник от ЦОП в гр. Средец
UNICEF Bulgaria/2022

The team is also helping other children catch up in school due to missed classes and the online learning.

Thanks to the support of social workers Maria-Magdalena is now a first grader.  

Мария-Магдалена учи да чете и пише с подкрепата на социалните работници в ЦОП  Средец
UNICEF Bulgaria/2022

‘She is so smart and curious; she touched our hearts from the very first moment we saw her smile and curiosity; she’s has so much potential.  I am sure she will manage well, and we will stay by her.’

shares Elena.

Maria-Magdalena is not the only child in the family who benefited from the support of the mobile team – her eldest brother, Milyo, was motivated to study as well. He is already 25-years old and admitted that due to the family situation and lack of finances he was not able to finish grade three as he had to take care of his younger siblings. Over the past year, he has been working at a small shop and has resumed his studies – very soon, he will finish third grade in the school in Zagortsi village in an individual form of education with an educational plan adapted based on his needs. He is very proud that his employers support his efforts in studying and are happy with his work.

Milyo first learned about the support provided by the social workers from a friend who joined the mobile team as a health mediator. But he said that it was his encounter with Elena and the mobile team that motivated him to pursue his studies. Now he dreams of becoming a social worker, like them, and helping people in need, as they do.

Деца от уязвими общоности учат заедно с връстниците си
UNICEF Bulgaria/2022

In a period of 6 months – from April to September 2021 – the mobile team has reached out to more than 50 vulnerable families with children in the municipalities of Sredets and Primorsko. ‘The direct individual contact is the most valuable approach that builds trust between professionals and families,’ says Elena.

She explains the work of the mobile team: ‘We visit the families one by one and  door-to-door; and go to the neighbourhoods in remote areas that do not have access to any support or social services. We want to learn first-hand from the families themselves about their problems and  how we can best support them. We refer to this as ‘mapping’.

‘‘I believe that this outreach approach of mobile work, which requires us to meet directly with the families, sometimes by visiting them every day and building trust, is the best way to provide support,’

- Elena said.

This approach should be adopted everywhere, as it cannot be expected that disadvantaged people can access services by themselves without having any information on where and how they can get support.’

Outreach child and family-centered preventive and support services

Component 4 of the EU Child Guarantee Pilot Project supports the development and provision of outreach child and family-centred preventive and support services through strengthening the capacities of existing community-based services in 7 pilot municipalities – Burgas, Kazanlak, Kotel, Sliven, Sredets, Stara Zagora and Tvarditsa. The services were expanded with mobile teams consisting of one social worker and two assistant workers (on health and educational issues) to strengthen the outreach work and preventive support to children and families in precarious situations. The task of the mobile teams is to provide integrated support to hard-to-reach children and families, to identify and address their specific vulnerabilities. The support includes the provision of information, counselling, referral to services, interventions to prevent school drop-out, facilitating access to health, education and social services and benefits, develop and implement tailored programmes for prevention of early marriage, family planning, and prevention of family separation.

EU Child Guarantee
UNICEF Bulgaria/2021

This project is financed by the European Union

The information and views set out in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for any use of the information contained therein.

More information about the project and the results to date is available HERE.