Pilot Project for testing the EU Child Guarantee in Bulgaria
Project implementation results by 30 September 2021 EU Child Guarantee Project in Bulgaria
The Pilot Project to test the implementation of the EU Child Guarantee in Bulgaria, implemented with the support of UNICEF and on funding by the European Commission, is aimed at children with disabilities and developmental difficulties, as well as children living in precarious family situations, including Roma children from vulnerable communities.
>> Programmatic update on the project.
The purpose of the project is to expand the access to, while improving the quality of, 4 types of services:
Home-visiting nurses care and the provision of individualised support to families with children up to 3 years of age;
A systematic approach to the delivery of early childhood intervention to families with young children with disabilities and developmental difficulties;
Quality inclusive pre-school education for children with disabilities and learning difficulties;
Child- and family-centered prevention and support services with a focus on children living in precarious family situations, including Roma children from vulnerable communities.
The pilot activities are being implemented in 10 municipalities across three Bulgarian regions: Burgas, Sliven and Stara Zagora, and are designed to support over 6,500 children and their families, as well as almost 600 specialists in different sectors.
The implementation of the project began in October 2020 with the signing of a Memorandum of Cooperation and Understanding between UNICEF, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education and Science, the Central Coordination Unit Directorate under the Council of Ministers and the three region administrations: Burgas, Sliven and Stara Zagora. Between November and December 2020, meetings and consultations were conducted with the ten pilot municipalities: Aytos, Burgas, Kazanlak, Kotel, Nova Zagora, Sliven, Sredets, Stara Zagora, Tvarditsa and Chirpan, as well as with the other partners at both regional and municipal level. During the first quarter of 2021, funding agreements were signed with the pilot municipalities for the implementation of the project activities.
Progress report on Component 1: Home-visiting nurses care and the provision of individualised support to families with children up to 3 years of age
▪ 10,274 home visits;
▪ 2,789 families with over 3,000 children aged 0 to 3 have received individualised support;
▪ Over 500 expectant mothers have received support in gaining access to pre-natal care;
* For the 1 October 2020 – 30 September 2021 period.
The home-visiting nurses care service is delivered by the Dr. G. V. Mirkovich Medical Centre in the city of Sliven, with territorial branches in two other municipalities (Nova Zagora and Tvarditsa), covering the territory of Sliven Region. Visiting medical nurses and midwifes provide consulting, counselling and guidance to expectant mothers and families with children up to 3 years of age on nurturing, healthy nutrition, a safe and healthy environment, early childhood development activities and the building of a healthy bond between parents and children.
As part of the pilot activities, the home-visiting nurses care service applies a more systematic monitoring of early childhood development at certain stages with a view to the early detection of developmental difficulties and to providing timely guidance and support for addressing these, referral of, and support to, families in their access to early childhood intervention services, health care and nutrition services, social and educational services in Sliven Region. The services of visiting nurses are available to all expectant mothers and families with young children in Sliven Region, and the frequency and intensity of support is tailored to the needs of individual families.
Progress report on Component 2: A systematic approach to the delivery of early childhood intervention to families with young children with disabilities and developmental difficulties
▪ 9 additional specialists hired and three mobile teams assembled for providing early childhood intervention;
▪ 31 specialists from 3 Community Centres have undergone intensive training courses in early childhood intervention;
• 20 medical professionals have taken part in a webinar on early detection of developmental delays;
• 23 parents have taken part in a webinar on early childhood development;
▪ Almost 10 families in Chirpan and Sliven have received support from the early childhood intervention team.
* For the 1 April 2021 – 30 September 2021 period.
The pilot project supports the development of a systematic approach to early childhood intervention for children with disabilities and developmental difficulties, or exposed to the risk of such challenges due to social or biological factors. This approach involves improved screening methods for the detection of developmental difficulties within the primary healthcare system (general practitioners, nurses, paediatricians); screening for visual and hearing impairments; referral of children at risk of developmental difficulties and disabilities to specialised medical assistance and community services, as well as provision of high-quality early childhood intervention services. The goal is improved, coordinated, and timely interaction among health, social, and education system professionals at local level, as would facilitate the early identification of children at risk of, or with, developmental difficulties and their timely referral to community support.
These activities are carried out across three municipalities: Sliven, Stara Zagora, and Chirpan. One of the main goals is expanding the capacity of the existing Community Centres for early childhood development to cover a larger number of children in early age (0–3 years) at risk of developmental delays or with disabilities. All three Community Centres have hired teams of three additional specialists each (a total of 9) who, by working in mobile teams, will provide family-centred early intervention, in accordance with the existing methodology for performance of early intervention services on disability cases, and the additional guidelines for work in a child’s natural environment through stronger support, consulting with, and providing guidance to the parents. The newly appointed specialists and the Community Centre teams have undergone an intensive seven-module training course delivered by two entities: the Eurlyaid European Association on Early Childhood Intervention and the Karin Dom Foundation.
In the summer, an agreement was signed with the Bulgarian Paediatric Association on the delivery of seminars for health professionals of the outpatient care system (general practitioners and paediatricians) as well as medical professionals of the hospital care system, aimed at familiarising them with relevant issues of monitoring childhood development, the early markers of general developmental delay, as well as visual and hearing impairments. Within the framework of the project, a unified mechanism will be developed and deployed for guidance and support by general practitioners/paediatricians and other health professionals for families with children at risk of developmental delays or disabilities on how to access the early intervention services provided by the Community Centres.
The specialists will work with children and families beyond the target groups served under a project funded by Procedure BG05M9OP001-2.004 – Early Childhood Development Services of Human Resource Development Operational Programme (HRDOP).
Progress report on Component 3: Quality inclusive pre-school education for children with disabilities and learning difficulties
▪ 426 teachers and experts taking part in a multi-modular training programme;
▪ 44 additional specialists: speech therapists, psychologists, and resource teachers hired;
▪ 65 employees of 3 RSCPIEs have undergone additional training;
▪ 6,152 children in 30 kindergartens have access to upgraded inclusive education.
* For the 1 April 2021 – 30 September 2021 period.
30 pilot kindergartens in 10 municipalities: Aytos, Burgas, Kazanlak, Kotel, Nova Zagora, Sliven, Sredets, Stara Zagora, Tvarditsa, and Chirpan have received support for creating an inclusive school environment and the more effective inclusion of children with disabilities and special educational needs. Kindergarten staff took part in a multi-modular training programme on inclusive education aimed at imparting the knowledge and skills necessary for working with children with disabilities, including through the use of assistive technology, and achieving effective interaction with all children while also engaging the parents.
Based upon a needs analysis, the pilot kindergartens have hired 33 additional specialists: speech therapists, psychologists and resource teachers; more specialists will be hired in September 2021. The kindergarten teams received guidance and technical support for developing projects to adapt the architectural and physical environment; thus 13 pilot kindergartens already have their projects ready for funding.
In addition to strengthening the capacity of kindergartens, the project also supports the program of the Regional Support Centres for the Process of Inclusive Education (RSCPIE) in Burgas, Sliven and Stara Zagora for conducting a functional needs assessment of children with disabilities, provision of methodological assistance to kindergartens and supervision on individual cases, as well as for strengthening the role of RSCPIEs in the exchange of expertise, experience and good practices.
Progress report on Component 4: Child- and family-oriented prevention and support services with a focus on children living in precarious family situations, including Roma children from vulnerable communities.
▪ 1,277 children in vulnerable position mapped and supported, as well as 976 parents and caregivers;
▪ 7 mobile teams assembled;
▪ 22 newly hired social workers and assistants have undergone intensive training;
▪ 11 additional social workers hired by 10 Child Protection authorities;
* For the 1 April 2021 – 30 September 2021 period.
This component supports the development and provision of child- and family-oriented outreach services of prevention and support by strengthening the capacity of the existing social community services in 7 pilot municipalities: Burgas, Kazanlak, Kotel, Sliven, Sredets, Stara Zagora, and Tvarditsa. Mobile teams were assembled to provide the services, comprised of one social worker and two social assistants (on health and educational matters, respectively), in order to strengthen outreach work and provide preventive support for children and families in a precarious situation. The task of such mobile teams is to provide integrated support to hard-to-reach children and families, to map their specific vulnerabilities and undertake measured to address them. Such support includes provision of information and guidance, consulting, referral to services; measures to avert truancy and dropping out of school; facilitating access to health, educational and social services and assistance; development and implementation of programs for prevention of early marriages, family planning and prevention of family separations. The mobile teams have commenced identifying vulnerable children and families and providing individualised support, as needed.
Alongside that, the project supports strengthening the capacity of the child protection system for preventing the separation of children from their families and providing integrated outreach support to vulnerable children and families by hiring additional social workers in key Child Protection (CP) authorities in all three pilot administrative regions, as well as by delivering trainings and supervision, developing guidelines and methodologies for integrated case management. To that end, an agreement has been signed between UNICEF and the Social Assistance Agency. Training and supervision of newly-hired social workers are the responsibility of the Know-how Centre for Alternative Child Care with New Bulgarian University, which also explores different software tools in support of the provision of integrated services. The study also includes an analysis of the applicability of the software tools in a Bulgarian context and exploring the possibilities for the integrated information system (IIS) of the Social Assistance Agency to be upgraded with the relevant additional functionalities.
15 boys and girls from the three pilot regions have joined in the implementation of the pilot project with the support of the National Network for Children and its territorial affiliates, the Burgas-based Roma District Alliance, the Sliven-based National Network of Health Mediators, and the Stara Zagora-based Mission Krile. Three regional teams of young people and mentors were created, which in March of 2021 a training on children’s participation and an introduction to the goals of the EU Child Guarantee were carried out. The youth teams have begun their own investigations on the main topics of the Child Guarantee: access to quality health care, education, child care, acceptable housing conditions and appropriate nutrition. Between April and July 2021, the young people worked on the first subject, exploring the challenges to access to health care for specific groups of children in need: access to routine preventive examinations for Roma children from the Nadezhda Neighbourhood (Sliven); access to health care for children with Down syndrome (Stara Zagora), and prevention of, and support for, minority children with addictions (Burgas). In addition, the U-Report application was used in conducting two nationwide consultations on how to guarantee for children in need of access to health care (June 2021) and education (August 2021), with the participation of over 200 young people aged 14 through 29 from all over the country. The point of that is for the views and opinions of children and young people to be taken into account in developing and implementing concrete measures and programmes, so that they would be more effective in addressing the specific needs of different groups of vulnerable children.
To promote better interaction among all institutions and partners, and to reinforce inter-sectoral cooperation, Coordination and Monitoring Boards have been established at national, regional and municipal level. Their main task is to provide strategic guidelines and support for the implementation of the project, to monitor its progress and the attainment of its goals, to assist in data gathering and the exchange of information and to support the spread and sustainability of innovative approaches and practices. The National Coordination and Monitoring Board, established by an order of the Minister of Labour and Social Policy, held its first meeting on 31 March 2021. The regional boards were created by orders, respectively, of the district governors of Burgas, Sliven, and Stara Zagora, and the municipal boards, by orders of the mayors of the relevant pilot municipalities. The Regional Boards convened their first meetings in April 2021, and the Municipal Boards in June–July 2021.
This project is funded by the European Union
© UNICEF Bulgaria, 2021
The information and views in this article are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the institutions, nor the bodies of the European Union, or any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.