National Network for Children sent an open letter to the Minister of Education and Science Nikolay Denkov, the Mayor of Sofia Municipality Ms. Yordanka Fandakova and Silvia Georgieva – Executive Director of the National Association of Municipalities in Bulgaria, urging alternative forms of care and training to become part of the licensed care for children from 0 to 6 years:
More than a month has passed since the start of the war in Ukraine, which caused an unprecedented wave of refugees to Bulgaria’s borders. In thirty days, more than 125,000 refugees passed through the territory of our country, and more than 58,000 remained to seek refuge and safety here. Most of them are mothers with children – children under 18 are now over 20 thousand and their number is increasing every day. Each of them needs not just humanitarian aid and a roof over their heads, but a sense of security, support and human acceptance in our society.
We are very disappointed that once again we do not see the necessary empathy, flexibility and adaptability to crisis situations in some institutions, especially in the education system. Unfortunately, this is especially true for the largest municipality – Sofia, which for years has chronic problems in managing kindergartens and nurseries and guaranteeing one of the basic social rights – access to early learning and care services. According to Ms. Maria Mincheva, Director of the Education Directorate in Sofia Municipality, it is clear that the municipality does not intend to support Ukrainian refugees and their children in any way, without even providing basic translation of the sections in the centralized system, through which they to apply for kindergartens, nurseries and preschool groups in Sofia.
Even if at first glance this position seems to protect the interests of Bulgarian children and parents waiting for ranking, de facto we are again witnessing the typical for the leadership of the municipality running away from responsibility in solving the problem of chronic shortages. The truth is that due to the systematic reluctance to take active action to unload the municipal gardens and nurseries at least partially from the influx to them, not only Ukrainian refugee children but also over 10 thousand Bulgarian children will remain outside municipal services again.
In the first days of the refugee crisis we from National Network for Children sent a letter with possible proposals and decisions to the Operational Coordination Group at the Council of Ministers and the Ministry of Education and Science and participated in a meeting with Deputy Mayor of Sofia Mr. Borsos. With it, we insist once again for a decade that alternative forms of care such as parent cooperatives, day care centers, children’s playgrounds and babysitters become part of recognized and licensed care and part of municipal and national policy for providing services in the field of early education and care, as is the practice throughout the European Union.
In a situation of unprecedented increase in the child population in Bulgaria (so far by at least 2%), which will continue in the coming months and awaiting another ranking for places in municipal gardens and nurseries, which will leave tens of thousands of children and families without a place in municipal service, we consider it critical that the municipalities in Bulgaria and especially Sofia Municipality, where the situation is most complicated, as well as the Ministry of Education and Science urgently recognize and support the establishment and operation of the above forms of early care and training. This is the only possible way to respond to the growing demand for such services, while at the same time giving a clear signal to parents and young families that the state is committed and socially responsible for the development of its society. This can be done on the one hand by introducing a voucher system for every child in kindergarten and kindergarten age, which can be used in a service of the family’s choice, and on the other – through municipal policies to support services by providing premises without hiring or with preferential one, supporting the construction of new services, promoting the qualification of teachers in early education (including vocational secondary education), promoting companies and businesses through public-private partnerships to open services to their employees, etc. .
We call for active action as a matter of urgency on the part of the Ministry of Education and Science and the municipalities in Bulgaria. It takes courage and determination to deal with the crisis, as well as solutions that, if they have seemed too unusual for those in power so far, are the only possible way out of the growing problems.
Not only the manifestation of solidarity and empathy, but also the economic future and development of the Bulgarian society depend on the actions of the state regarding the education and early care for all children in Bulgaria, including refugee children. Early education and care services are the key to economically active parents included in the labor market, not in the social assistance system and children included and ready for school, regardless of their origin, ethnicity, citizenship and socio-economic status. Education and early care are a civilizational marker of developed societies not in the form of a privilege for a few, but as a right of all children. Once again, we call on all responsible institutions to take long-delayed decisions, for the implementation of which they have all the necessary means and resources and will receive broad public support.