National Network for Children sent an open letter to the Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, expressing its concerns for the continuing unresolved urgent issues related to the protection and rights of children in Bulgaria.
“As an alliance of 137 civic organizations, working with and for children and families across the country, we are extremely disturbed by the systematic regress of the child protection system, which affects children and their parents and thus the whole society”, the letter says.
Among the problems that we highlight as the most significant is the continuing high workload over the years of people working in protection system, the lack of requirements for specialized higher education and professional standards, follow-up training, monitoring and supervision of the staff. We don’t believe that these problems will be solved by the transfer of the District Departments for Child Protection from one agency to another and by creating a ‘mega agency’, responsible for children, families and people with disabilities, as recently proposed a group of MPs from the ‘Patriotic Front’.
Meanwhile, significant number of children in Bulgaria continue to live in poverty, drop out of school and are separated from their families. We find the policy, activities and the attitude of the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy (MLSP) and the Social Assistance Agency (SAA) to civil society organizations, working with children and parents, disturbing.
We find out inconsistency between the officially declared intentions for reforms and for introduction of an integrated system of child protection and the actual freeze of policies improvements at government level; we find mismatch between formal sharing of European democratic principles and actual practices and values, inherited from the totalitarian past, including neglecting of civil society.
From 28 to 31 of May in Sofia was held the Annual Meeting of the National Network for Children. This is the biggest event of the year, bringing together over 200 representatives of civil organizations, local authorities, professionals, working with children and young people across the country with the purpose to provide opportunities for exchange of experiences and practices, mutual learning, training, discovering partners and setting common problems and possible solutions. We are extremely disappointed by the lack of participation of representatives from the MLSP and ASA.
There is a trend authorities to treat NGOs as a group of people and organizations who are only self-interested and always criticizing without clear criteria and evidence based approach. Formally, we are involved in a number of working groups, but often our proposals are rejected or not accepted with arguments that they are better suited for strategies or not realistic.
The worrying trend that continues from the previous programe period shows that the majority of funds under Operational Programs of the EU are allocated among the institutions through direct provision of funds and procedures for competitive selection of projects with participation of various stakeholders are underestimated. This leaves the impression that the EU programs are used to systematically finance the system of the labor market, education and social services, displacing the commitment of the state budget, and that the programs are becoming a mechanism for redistributing funds between key government institutions, additionally funding activities and projects without sustainability.
Another very serious problem for us is also the poor coordination and cooperation between institutions that are in charge with the protection and rights of the child.
We insist on urgent short-term plan to solve the mentioned problems in the system for child protection and a long-term plan, oriented towards a legislative and administrative reform aimed at improving the welfare of all children and parents in the country, not just the protection of vulnerable groups.
We need a systematic change and a new attitude toward the civil society organizations; we need an environment and conditions for an effective dialogue with all key stakeholders and decision-makers, based on evidence and external evaluations.
We believe that the participation of citizens and civil society organizations in the policy making process is a condition for democracy, for open, accountable and effective governance.