The National Network for Children strongly objects to the presentation of foster care as a business and to the criticism of foster parents in Bulgaria.
We appeal for people not to oppose and divide parents into biological and foster categories, but to talk about the needs of children and how they can best be met. We believe that every child has the need and the right to grow up in a family, to have a childhood and future.
It is a fact that there are gaps in legislation and a need for more support for biological parents of children. For more than three years, organisations and members of the NNC have been insisting on developing a comprehensive family policy with clear objectives, measures and activities and an adoption of a family-centered approach in all areas affecting children’s well-being, including socio-economic measures, education, health, housing and accommodation, child protection, social welfare and so on.
The blame for the lack of such a policy and support at least should be sought in the foster parents – the people who have taken the responsibility to engage with this difficult task and which became the only real alternative to institutions. Many of the children that they have adopted into their homes have lived in institutions, are scarred by their staying there for years, and so cannot adjust to normal life. Others are maltreated by their families, are used for begging or are at risk of being placed in an institution.
How much does foster care really cost?
If we listen to publications, foster care costs 14 million levs. This is not true.
We assume that the said amount is associated with the total cost of the ‘I have a family’ project, financed by the ‘Human Resources Development’ operational programme. Its budget is 14,989,455 levs. We call on the Social Assistance Agency to disclose what the actual costs of the project are, how much has been spent on salary costs for social workers and administrative costs, and how much has gone to support foster parents and the children placed with them.
Whatever foster care costs, it is a better alternative than the life of a child in an institution and it is cheaper compared to care in a children’s home.
According to a comparative analysis of the costs and benefits of the systems of care for the child, CCI 2010.CE.16.0.AT.076, commissioned by the European Commission (DG Regional Policy), foster care in all its forms has the highest cost:benefit ratio compared to other forms of care for children including bringing up children in a home and residential care in the community (centres for family-type accommodation, small group homes, sheltered housing and so on).
There is a good amount of international research on and evidence of the effects on child development of staying in institutions. Institutional care leads to long-term negative consequences for the health and psycho-social development of children. (1) Studies have shown that in children under the age of three it is possible for institutionalization to suppress brain functions during the most important period of brain development, leaving permanent damage to their social and emotional behavior. (2)
Besides being harmful to all areas of child development, institutions have a grim history of neglect, abuse and violence.(3) Studies (4) show that for children in institutions the chance of sexual violence is twice as high as in the general population. In Bulgaria checks in Homes for Children with Intellectual Disabilities in 2010 revealed a shocking picture of malnutrition and neglect leading to a number of deaths.
Besides the negative impact on the development and behavior of children, institutional forms of care lead to further economic and social costs to society. The National Network for Children firmly believes that institutional care in any case cannot be the most appropriate for any child, and it is much better to be in foster care than in a home.
What is foster care and how to become a foster parent?
Children deprived of parental care are longing for a home and a family. They want to hug and be hugged, to love and to be loved, just like any other child! Foster care is a social service that provides an opportunity for children who cannot live with their parents to live in a family. It is part of the process of de-institutionalization in Bulgaria and should be combined with services and support to families so that there are no abandoned children and children in care.
The regulation on the conditions and procedure for application, selection and approval of foster families, and the placement children in them, states that the placement of children in foster care can be:
- Short-term – for up to one year to support the biological family;
- Long-term – for a period exceeding one year;
- Urgent – to preserve the life and health of children.
The type of placement is determined according to the needs of the child, the purpose of the accommodation and the child’s action plan made by the Department for Child Protection ‘Social Assistance’ Directorate. Children remain in foster care as long as necessary according to their needs. Foster parents can continue to care for the child up to the age of 18 years if they cannot be returned to (be brought up in) their own family or adopted.
The procedure for the selection, training and approval of foster parents takes 4 to 6 months. The evaluation process includes at least a few meetings with a social worker and/or psychologist, visits to candidates’ homes to assess the living conditions and safety of the home, meeting at least two people who can provide a written recommendation for applicants, and initial training for the candidates in foster care. Work with the child’s family and the relationship with the biological parents is an important part of the education and training of foster parents. The practices of organisations – members of the network for the promotion of foster care recruitment and support of foster parents – indicate that where possible, and working in partnership, the children return to their biological parents and/or maintain contact with them. The role of foster parents in supporting their children not to condemn their parents and to help them recognise that the parent had difficulties and were not ready to be the best parents in this particular moment is critical.
What are the advantages of raising a child left without the support of their birth family in a foster family, rather than in an institution?
Foster care is not a magic solution which destroys the effects of having stayed in an institution, but foster parents help children to recover from and overcome many of their difficulties and fears and enable them to make meaningful social relationships as adults. Exploring the SAPI pilot project for foster care, supported by UNICEF Bulgaria, shows that almost 100% of children up to 1 year have had a positive change and have caught up fully with the developmental delays caused by being in an institution, with improved language and communication abilities. 87% of care-leavers are no longer behind the standard ability levels for their age, while 13% have even made their results above average rate.
How many children are growing up in foster care and how many in institutions for children?
According to the ASA, at the end of December 2013, 1,943 children were placed in foster care. At the same time, the number of children in homes was 4,167, of which 1,204 were in homes for medical and social care for children between 0-3 years old. It would be much better if these children were placed in foster care instead of in a home.
Beyond the numbers and the need to share and promote good examples.
“It’s very hard to be a foster parent, but it’s a vocation that gives meaning to your whole life,” says one foster mother. “To teach a child to eat because they don’t know how, to learn to walk because they can’t, to teach them to speak because you hear their first words – all this makes worthwhile the difficulties and efforts to address the problems caused by having stayed in a home. ”
Good examples are numerous and can be found, seen and promoted as long as there is a desire. One such example is the story of Ginka who fought with schools, kindergartens, private doctors, neighbors and social workers; another is the story of Galia, a foster mother, who helped a birth mother to recover her child. Many other examples can be read on the website of the National Association of Foster Care.
June 3, 2014,
National Network for Children
1. K.Braun (K.Browne), 2009, damage by institutionalization in early childhood, “Save the Children”, page 9 – 17
2. Ibid, p.15
3. Eurocild (2012) Working Paper: Deinstitutionalization and quality alternative care for children in Europe. Lessons learned and perspectives.
4. Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
Translator: Morgan James, volunteer
Photo: freeimages.com / mmgallan