Practitioners and experts from Bulgaria and Macedonia gathered at a peer-learning seminar in Sofia on 29-30 September 2015 to exchange experiences and share best practices in the field of early childhood development for children from vulnerable groups. Each year the International Step by Step Association (ISSA) supports and facilitates learning amongst the association’s membership under the umbrella of their Peer Learning Activities initiative. On this occasion, professionals from over 10 member organizations from the National Network for Children, Bulgaria and three partner organizations from Macedonia discussed successful approaches and methods of working in Roma communities with children and parents.
Milena Nikolova from the National Network for Children presented a handbook of good practices in the field of early childhood education and care gathered from member organizations of the Network. The practices focus on children with disabilities, from marginalized communities and some with educational deficits or special needs. The common feature of all the good practices is that they are based on the principle that education and development of children starts at birth, they are family-focused and offer individual approach to the children and their families.
Dani Koleva from the National Network for Children presented the EU framework on the early childhood development, while Suzana Kirandziska from the Step by Step Foundation in Macedonia talked on the approaches of working with Roma children in the largest Roma district of Skopje – Suto Orizari. She talked about the importance of both physical environment, the ratio of adults to children, the importance of play for children’s development and the appropriate educational programs, in accordance with the children’s age. The practice of Step by Step Foundation in Macedonia emphasizes not only on working with Roma children and families, home visits, workshops for Roma parents for boosting their parental capacity, but also on working with non-Roma communities for awareness raising on Roma children access to early childhood education and care services.
Zornitsa Stoichkova and Boyan Vassilev from “Health and Social Development” Foundation talked on the importance of being in the community and working there with children and families, so as to build trust and to facilitate access to the services offered. Sustainability of the projects and monitoring and evaluation were also among the discussed topics. Another important approach for the success of practices might be the appointment of a mediator who is part of the Roma community and speaks fluently the language.
Health and Social Development foundation from Bulgaria hosted a visit to its center in the Roma district “Filipovtsi” in Sofia, where they implement programs to work with pregnant women and parents of children up to three years old to improve parenting skills.
Participants in the seminar agreed on the importance of early childhood development and spoke about the economic factor – early investment avoids rehabilitation programs later in life. Experts and professionals agreed upon the necessity to advocate for a strategic framework on early childhood development and a holistic approach to children and families.
National Network for Children will host a conference on the early childhood education and care in Sofia in November to raise the issues concerning investments in this early stage of life and to advocate for better public policies on this topic.