Silvia is confidently taking her first steps towards a new life
The mobile team at the Community Support Centre (CSC) in Burgas, working within the framework of the EU Child Guarantee Pilot Project, has consistently stood by the three-year-old girl and her family for eighteen months now.
She can already walk and is stepping on the tiles at the front of door of her family’s little house. All the others – her mother, her grandmother and her brothers – are looking on, barely breathing, for fear she might tumble. They start cheering her on and encouraging her to take another and yet another step.
These are the first independent steps, timid and difficult as they are, of three-year-old Silvia from the Roma community of the Meden Rudnik neighbourhood in Burgas. The young girl diagnosed with cerebral palsy is making these steps after almost eighteen months of examinations, support, help and rehabilitation provided thanks to the mobile team at the Community Support Centre in Burgas (CSC Burgas) and its manager.
“We visit the family quite often. We monitor Silvie’s development and we also track the way her mother Zyumbyula copes with it, whether she needs some additional help, and how her brothers are doing, if they are going to school or to kindergarten. Silvie has a younger brother, so we monitor his development too”, says Katya, a social assistant on the mobile team. She and Aygul, the other social worker on the team, are always there with the family during the rehabilitation sessions for Silvia, which she and her mother go to twice a week at the CSC.
The team recruited under the EU Child Guarantee Pilot Project in Bulgaria was the first to conduct a home visit to Silvia’s family in April 2021. Since then they have always stood by the little girl. Prior to the intervention of the social workers from the CSC Burgas, Silvia had never seen a doctor or another specialist and nobody in her family knew how to help and support her to walk and develop on an equal footing with her peers.
The pilot project which is funded by the European Commission and implemented with the support of UNICEF provides for the establishment of mobile teams of social services to support vulnerable families within the community, as close to the people as possible. They visit areas and communities that are not within the reach of other services. Their aim is to identify the needs and support families in overcoming their problems by facilitating access to various local and central government institutions, healthcare services, educational establishments, social services, etc.
Everything began for Silvia when she was two years old
The team from Burgas visited Silvia’s family when she was two years old. Their initial job was to make sure that her brothers were enrolled in the education system (school and kindergarten).
Then I noticed that Silvie’s mother pushed her around in a pram. The girl looked floppy, she could not sit upright and she had to be propped. There was no way for her to stand on her feet. She was lying on the props and did not move at all
says Katya. At home, the young girl seemed self-isolated. She did not try to engage with her family members. She could not walk or stand upright on her feet. The mother of multiple children admitted that she had not tried to consult a specialist as she was convinced that the child would “grow out of it” because her other children were late talkers and late walkers.
Silvia’s mother is a single parent of five children. She had no idea how to help her daughter. The woman had never left the area in her life and feared anything outside of her routine: she could not visit any institutions on her own, and she was afraid of the hustle and bustle in the city centre and the heavy traffic on the streets. Thus she was not able to seek help outside her community.
Always standing by the family
It was at that point in time that the team took over and started informing the mother about the existing health and education services, and the possibility and need for a specialized medical examination of her daughter to check whether there were any developmental issues.
We managed to gain Zyumbyula’s trust with a lot of persistence, patience, and understanding around her fears and habits
the team members recall.
The mobile team was involved at every step of the process; they helped her sign up for medical examinations for her child by specialists, provided transportation, accompanied mother and daughter during their visits to institutions, and looked for ways to get affordable and high-quality rehabilitation. Parallel to all that, they provided psychological and emotional support to the mother and showed her new approaches and techniques to better understand and respond to her children’s needs.
We will never forget how painful it was for the family, and also for us, when Silvie was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. We all wept when we shared the news. However, the shared sadness brought us closer together and motivated each of us, especially her mother, to all give our best” to support her
say the social workers.
The mother learned to trust the team as they guided her through the difficult process of providing the initial support, therapy and rehabilitation for Silvia at St. Stiliyan Integrated Service Centre for Children with Disabilities in Burgas. In order to receive these services, the young girl needed to stay at the Centre, while the team and Zyumbyula paid regular visits to her. “Within a short time, Silvie made tangible progress. Her mother felt reassured and was more motivated to provide greater care for her child and make targeted efforts to encourage her to walk”, says Katya.
In order to return to the family, Silvia left the Centre ahead of schedule, after approximately three months of therapy. Then her mother was confronted with a new challenge: Silvia needed rehabilitation but her mother could not afford it and she found it difficult to take the child to places far away from their neighbourhood.
“Zyumbyula needed substantial support but, regardless, she is a brave woman and a survivor. With our support, she gained the courage to ride the bus on her own, in spite of all her previous fears. Still, she did it and continues to do so in order to give her daughter access to adequate and timely treatment”, says the social worker.
Now, her mother is already able to take her daughter to weekly rehabilitation sessions on her own. That service, too, was provided with the support of the mobile team and Ms. Maria Atanasova, Head of the CSC Burgas. The comprehensive rehabilitation service is provided through the Nadezhda Community Centre for Early Childhood Development and Parental Support in Burgas. As time progresses, Zyumbyula becomes ever more confident. She is always by the side of rehabilitation therapists, and she can even work together with them during the sessions, learning with them and then repeating what she has learned at home.
Silvia’s mother has already overcome her initial concerns and she is now ready to let her daughter go to kindergarten in the autumn. The team will once again stand by the family in this challenging transition from the family environment to the community in the kindergarten.
Silvie’s case is a prime example of how a child lagging behind in her development was able to reach the protection and social services system years earlier and receive timely treatment. The outcome for Silvie’s life may have been very different if they had waited for the system to respond. Had it not been for the project team, we would have learned about Silvie’s case only at the time of reaching school age
says Ms. Maria Atanasova, Head of the Community Support Centre in Burgas. “This is genuine prevention in action”, she adds.
Silvia is one of the 2,384 children reached by the 7 mobile teams working in the field within the framework of the EU Child Guarantee Pilot Project. To support mobile outreach, a total of 22 additional social workers and assistants have been recruited at the Community Support Centres (CSCs) and other social services for risk prevention and support of children and their families in seven pilot municipalities – Burgas, Kazanlak, Kotel, Sliven, Sredets, Stara Zagora and Tvarditsa.
The goal of these mobile teams is to provide integrated support to hard-to-reach children and families, map their specific vulnerabilities and undertake measures to address them. Such support includes the 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 the prevention of early marriages, family planning and prevention of family separation. The teams work together with the social assistance and child protection services on joint cases for the full support of parents and children.
The project is funded by the European Commission and is implemented with UNICEF’s support.
About the EU Child Guarantee
With the main aim of reducing child poverty and social exclusion for all children across the European Union, the European Commission, in partnership with UNICEF, is implementing a pilot-program "Phase III: Testing the Child Guarantee" in Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Germany, Italy, Lithuania and Spain.
Bulgaria was given the opportunity to pilot the programme Testing the EU Child Guarantee, in cooperation with the European Commission and UNICEF, to work on addressing child poverty and social exclusion. To develop new service models and best practices for children and their families, UNICEF is using its experience, partnerships and capacities by modeling integrated multidisciplinary, adequately funded family and community services in three districts of the country: Burgas, Sliven, and Stara Zagora. UNICEF's approach includes 4 components: Home visiting and individualized support for families of young children; early childhood intervention (ECI) services for families with young children with disabilities and developmental difficulties’ quality inclusive pre-school education services for children with disabilities and learning difficulties; and outreach child and family-centered preventive and support services.