The first large-scale forum of social workers and specialists from across the country outlined the main problems and solutions in the field of social work.
The forum “Courage, Solidarity, Social Work” brought together over 120 representatives of social service providers and civil organizations from 20 locations, institutions, media, social workers, representatives of European advocacy networks.
The discussion meeting was held on the occasion of World Social Work Day, when society as a whole pays tribute to those who support the most vulnerable, and is intended to become an annual event.
The forum was organized by the Bulgarian Center for Non-Profit Law, the “For Our Children” Foundation, the International Social Service – Bulgaria Foundation, the National Children’s Network, the “World of Maria” Foundation, and SOS Children’s Villages – Bulgaria.
Candidates for Members of Parliament for the 49th National Assembly Galia Zhelezkova and Iliana Zhekova, GERB-SDS coalition, and Aleksandra Korchova and Elisaveta Belobradova, PP-DB coalition, participated in it. The host was journalist Maria Milkova.
The second part of the forum gathered the opinions of those working in social services on the main challenges of helping the poor and vulnerable. The results of the discussions were presented to Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Policy Nadya Klisurska, who commented: “Investments in increasing the professional capacity of employees in the social sphere and their support are key to successful reforms in the social sector,” she said.
Social work is for brave and strong people for whom this is a cause and a vocation. It changes lives. But there are many unresolved problems – to make the system work well, reforms and joint efforts of all institutions are needed – as the forum showed.
The discussion sought answers to questions about the future of social services in Bulgaria, their planning and quality, and the support of social workers.”
“Social work in Bulgaria has achieved a lot. The Law on Social Services reflects the achievements and good practices, but the question is how to turn them into standards for the whole country,” said Nadya Shabani, director of the Bulgarian Center for Non-Profit Law.
Representatives of political parties and experts have come together to understand that social reform and legislation should be a priority and concrete steps are needed for their implementation. Their goal is to support children to stay with their parents. A joint coordinated work of the three main institutions that are important for risk prevention is necessary – the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education and Science, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy.
“The legislation should serve people in need and the people who work for them, not the state administration, by being an alibi for unfinished work,” said Elisaveta Belobradova from the PP-DB.
“Every change in the system of social services should be discussed with social workers. The basis for the changes should be the collected data and their analysis,” believes Alexandra Korcheva from the PP-DB.
Political instability is a major obstacle to the development of the social sphere. “Social policy should be built upon, not changed every 5-10 years,” noted Galya Zhelyazkova from GERB-SDS.
The audience heard real stories that showed why social work is important for society and what challenges vulnerable people and social workers face.
The first story introduced the topic of child protection and support for families. It proved that mistrust in the child protection system leads to a lack of prevention and delayed assistance.
The basic problems faced by vulnerable families became clear from this story: lack of housing, supportive social environment, and psychological support, and services in the home for children with chronic illnesses. There is a lack of collaboration between social workers and healthcare and education specialists. Registration in another location makes it impossible to access social assistance and services.
The second major topic discussed was human resources in social work. The main problems identified were low pay, poor working conditions, lack of support and opportunities for professional qualification, and a lack of modern standards for social work.
“To make the life of a social worker better is not an expense but an investment. This investment will build the backbone of social work in Bulgaria after years,” said Elisaveta Belobradova.
“It is necessary to protect the authority of the social worker, and society needs to become acquainted with social work,” believes Galya Zhelezkova. “No one dreams of becoming a social worker. At the same time, this is a profession of the future,” she added.
The topic of assessing people with disabilities was presented through the stories of Pavel, Nadezhda, and Viktor – young people with intellectual disabilities who attend a Day Center for the development of work skills. Some of them work in supported employment conditions, but only thanks to a social service from the “Svetut na Maria” foundation.
“If there are no support services for employment, and such services are only available in two to three places in the country, these people are doomed to end up in an institution and be dependent on the state. This problem affects tens of thousands of people with intellectual disabilities, those suffering from mental illness and dementia,” said Miryana Malamin-Siriyski, Director of the “Svetut na Maria” Foundation.
“The main problem is that the TELK system is designed to distribute money, it does not have an active function to support people in their development,” commented Elisaveta Belobradova. The core of this problem is that the diagnosis is not separated from the assessment of employability,” she explained.
Changes need to be made to the employment promotion law, work needs to be done with employers, and skills of the people themselves need to be developed through mentors and instructors in their work, suggested Iliyana Zhekova.
The third topic about integrated services and early childhood intervention presented the problem of the lack of expert, social, and psychological support for families at risk and for adoptive parents. Society, professionals in childcare facilities, schools, and doctors do not understand how the social system works. Early childhood intervention does not happen, and this leads to children being separated from their parents, being put up for adoption, and sent to residential centers, said Mariana Sokolova, presenting a real story from practice that illustrates the problem.
The question was sharply raised as to why Bulgaria remains the only country in the EU that allows adoption disruption?
Alexandra Korchova stated that legislative changes are being worked on that will end the practice of adoption disruption and ensure the right to information about the origin of adopted children.
“The role of the state is to ensure that adoptive parents do not want to return the child. It is easiest to ban by law, but it is not the most effective, the system must support these families,” added Galya Zhelyazkova.
From the story, it became clear that the best alternative for the child was to be placed in a foster family. This raised the question of why foster care in Bulgaria has been provided on a project basis for 10 years now? Why is there still no vision for its development and a unified standard for its financing? Elisaveta Belobradova stated that sustainable and long-term policies are not made on a project basis and expressed the opinion that this practice should be stopped.
The question was also raised about when Bulgaria will have a National Strategy for Children and Families.
Galina Zheleva reminded that such a project had been developed, but due to misinformation, society reacted negatively, and it was not adopted. “That is why the policies we make need to be properly understood by the people,” she said. “There must be a national strategy, but it must be clearly presented, and here is the role of the state.”
In the second part of the event, discussion groups addressed the problems of social services.
Although there is new legislation, there has been no change in the philosophy of service provision, and the child and family are still not seen as the central focus. The system still serves the administrative structure and process, according to social workers.
Special attention was paid to the lack of sustainable state solutions for foster care and its planning by municipalities, as well as to standards for its quality.
Other problems outlined by the discussion groups were the absence of guidelines for minimum existing services in the new service map in each municipality.
The proposals were for a working group with the participation of municipalities and civil organizations, which would create a good regulation for the workload of social workers, based on good practices.
From this discussion, we have two good news, summarized Maria Brestnichka from the National Children’s Network:
Firstly, there is a political consensus that the topic is important, and the engagement of dialogue with civil organizations and political parties should continue. We will continue to insist on this and seek the implementation of this commitment.
Secondly, political parties agree that social work and the social worker need a strategy for human resource development, work standards, qualifications, and support.
Maria Brestnichka called on both political parties and the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy not to forget that we have a huge resource in the face of those working in the field and civil organizations, which, if used properly, will bring a lot of success. Let us continue with energy and motivation to make social work what it should be – meaningful and beneficial to people.