tment represents a huge step forward. However, we The National Network for Children welcomes the efforts of the Bulgarian government in relation to the process of deinstitutionalisation and its long-term political commitment to close institutions. Without doubt this commiwould like to share our concerns about the way this policy is being implemented in practice.
With the start of the first pilot projects, funded by the European Union and aimed at developing alternative services for the homes for children with disabilities, a real danger is created that large-scale institutions will simply be replaced by smaller institutions. Unfortunately, the combination of the long-term stay of children in the homes for children with disabilities and the quality of care they have received there; the lack of support services; the situation of their birth parents; and a lack of adoptive and foster care applicants mean that the only alternative in the short-term for the majority of these children will be placement in small group homes (‘Family Type Placement Centres’ as they are under Bulgarian regulations).
The methodological guidance about the way in which such Family Type Placement Centres should function, as approved by the Agency for Social Assistance and the State Agency for Child Protection, regulates the capacity of these services to be up to 15 children. It is clear that all such new services, including the ones which will be developed within the EC-funded ‘Childhood For All’ project, will be full to capacity.
We understand the desire to be cost-effective in times of financial crisis. However, by placing such large numbers in Family Type Placement Centres, we believe the Government will be working in contradiction of its own stated goal – as set out in the “Vision for the deinstitutionalization of children in Republic of Bulgaria” (approved by the Council of Ministers, 24 February 2010) – which is “What is best for children”. This also runs contrary to the key principles described in this policy document about the best interests of the child and social inclusion.
In our view – as experts with considerable experience working with children and families and in the development of preventative and alternative services – this also contradicts recognized good European practices. The experience of other countries, including Romania, demonstrates that a capacity of 12 children does not lead to a good quality of care especially in the case of children with special needs. This is confirmed in Bulgarian practice by the pilot projects and experience of many organizations such as UNICEF, ARK, Child and Space Association, Equilibrium Association, the Cedar Foundation and others – all of which have demonstrated that 8 children is the maximum number in order to ensure good enough quality care, their participation in wider community life and to enable the services to be ‘family-type’ in practice. In our opinion, the concept of placing 15 children under one roof is in fact incompatible with ‘family-type’.
Expert work carried out by Professor Kevin Browne includes a definition of small and large scale institutions for children: “A large institution is characterised by having 25 or more children living together in one building. A small institution or children’s home refers to a building housing 11 to 24 children. Alternatively ‘family-like’ homes accommodate 10 children or less, usually separated with 2 to 3 in each bedroom”. These parameters have been adopted in the Council of Europe’s recommendations on childcare, 2005.
We consider that caring for 15 children in small institutions will not ensure the effectiveness of the EC and Bulgarian government investments. On the contrary, this will mean lost opportunities for the children in the homes as well as all Bulgarian citizens, taking into account the long-term economic costs.
The other concerns we have relate to the building requirements for Family Type Placement Centres and specifically, a one-size fits all model for municipalities requiring a one floor building of 600 square metres. (As envisaged in the Requirements for applying for submission of project proposals, scheme BG161PO001/1.1-12/2011 “Support for deinstitutionalization of social institutions offering services for children at risk”). We welcome the clear and well defined description of the functional requirements for the buildings and the statement that these should not differ from the surrounding areas or stand out as being social institutions. At the same time, we are concerned that the requirement that one and the same building model be used everywhere actually contradicts this aim, as well as the policy set out in the “Vision for deinstitutionalisation”.
Re-confirming our commitment to work in partnership and seek to find the best solutions to these issues and ensuring that the process is truly guided above all by the best interest of the child, we would like to make the following suggestions:
1) With regard to the capacity for Family Type Placement Centres and the introduction of good practices in the process of deinstitutionalisation in the whole of Bulgaria:
– The capacity of 15 is reviewed and reduced to 8 children, in line with good European practices.
2) With regard to the buildings and the functional requirements of scheme BG161PO001/1.1-12/2011 “Support for deinstitutionalization of social institutions offering services for children at risk”:
– The model which is outlined should be presented as an illustrative example and possible sample design, rather than as being obligatory for all municipalities who will apply for funding;
– To add the opportunity that the services be used by children with different special needs rather than only those with motor ones;
– To review the requirement that the Family Type Placement Centres function for 10 years and instead link their duration with the regional and national strategies and social services plans which will confirm whether there is a need for such services in the municipality in question, and allow, where appropriate, for building to be used for other services for children and families.
This statement has been also sent to the the European Commission, UNICEF and Eurochild. De-institutionalising and Transforming Children’s Services: A Guide to Good Practice, Georgette Mulheir & Kevin Browne, 2007