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logo1ChildPact is representative of those countries clustered around or close to the Black Sea. It operates as a coalition of national networks of NGOs working with or on behalf of children.

Equilibrium has been involved since the early stages of ChildPact’s development. At that time,David Bisset (EQ’s chairman) was an elected member of the managing board of the National Network for Children in Bulgaria and he was the first point of contact between the Bulgarian organisation and the fledgling international coalition.

During April 2016, representatives from 9 countries gathered in Serbia to review the results of groundbreaking work they had been doing together. Together with Jocelyn Penner (regional policy director for World Vision), Romanian childcare expert, Andy Guth devised a Child Protection Index that was piloted in 9 countries. This exercise involved 71 experts (72 if we include Andy) from Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Albania, Armenia, Georgia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo. David was one of the Bulgarian team.

The index refers to those articles of the UNCRC that relate to child protection and is designed to test the development of child protection policy and practice in the various countries. It contains in excess of 600 indicators spread over the areas of policy, services, accountability and coordination.

The regional index will be launched in front of EC representatives and international organizations in September. This means that complex data needs to be presented through clever and simple visualization. Additionally, if the data is to be updated regularly and at short intervals (2 years say), the index needs refinement. This was the job of those assembled in Belgrade.

How does Equilibrium benefit from its contact with ChildPact and the production of the Child Protection Index? The interests of organizations like Equilibrium that work in the frontline of childcare service delivery in the Balkans and adjacent regions are not served by commentary that is not evidence-based. That evidence ought to have been meticulously analyzed and tested for relevance and veracity. The ChildPact index is a significant example of an evidence-based approach.

In recent weeks, David has been using his enhanced awareness drawn from his work as a contributing expert to ChildPact to support a request for greater refinement and specificity when making references to “low capacity” among Bulgarian service providers.

In the context of direct discussion with development experts, he has stated that a distinction between “professional capability” and “resources” is useful. Those child protection departments and service providers that delivered the first phase of deinstitutionalization (DI) in Bulgaria have demonstrated their capacity in the sense of professional capability and commitment. Certain NGOs and other local actors stepped in to overcome the deficiencies in the way that EC structural funds were utilized to support DI actions. Through their incisive action, this small group of experienced service managers showed exceptional competence. They were, nevertheless, critically under-resourced (human and material resources) during the DI actions. The standard of services provided by the most competent of professionals is compromised when those people are overworked, under-funded and operating from deteriorating facilities.

Arguments for the “professionalization” of the sector are valid – qualifications, training, professional development, mentoring and supervision are important. However, standards in childcare also depend on the size of case-loads and the availability of resources for child protection departments and service providers. While acknowledging the validity of prioritizing risk prevention in childcare and actively supporting an evolution in the direction of universal family support, Equilibrium claims that there is a need for consolidation of existing services before we embark on expansion and diversification.

Additionally, 18 “baby homes” remain operational. Those working in DI have a moral obligation to finish what they started and the consortium known as Childhood 2025 (of which Equilibrium is a member) works hard to prevent obfuscation and repositioning of the goal-posts when designing the second DI programming phase.

We must stay on course.