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Looking outwards to the community 

“Entrepreneurs have zeitgeist – they know what is going on in the world and act accordingly.”

(David Bisset, EQ chairman)

Entrepreneurs can easily lose their zeitgeist. For those who start organizations it depends heavily on maintaining their connection with the people they serve and the values they stand for while a substantial enterprise, complex systems and organizational paraphernalia grow around them. Bigger vehicles are less easy to maneuver and they make it more difficult to sense the bumps and curves in the road.

EQ celebrated its 10th birthday during 2014. It’s a mature organization with a reputation to maintain (hence the anniversary brochure and DVD) and a growing portfolio of social services to manage. Have EQ team members held on to their zeitgeist?  We believe that we have because of our constant focus on social capital. Within EQ, we benefit from our connectedness to each other, a spirit of helpfulness and collaborative effort and the realization that people have the ideas that create change, not organizations.

During 2014, EQ was highly engaged with the issues of quality and impact of social services in the course of a project funded via the Bulgarian-Swiss Cooperation Programme. In this context, we stated our belief in “organizational habits” that sustain quality in service provision. We focused on responsiveness to the community as opposed to the organisation’s relationship with the institutional framework. This means that, increasingly, EQ seeks to build social connectedness beyond the boundaries of the organization. Our public visibility and influence have little to do with “pushing a brand”.  It arises through the strength of our connections with families, foster parents, adoptive parents, volunteers, working partners and community groups.

We don’t just place great emphasis on social connectedness, we also value and nurture our professional relationships. During 2014, the social services complex in Ruse continued to evolve as a training and resource centre with an emphasis on the development and management of community-based services for children and families. Additionally, a significant number of our ventures arose through invitations from peer organizations, partnerships or joint ventures that extend across a large variety of fields of work. Increasingly, EQ team members have been asked to provide their expertise or share their know how in the context of national and international programmes.

Working in the broader context of deinstitutionalization, there are four areas  of development that depend both on our ability to build and sustain trust-based partnerships with families and also the strength of our relationships with other professional actors – Early Intervention, ACTIVE Support for Vulnerable Families, Outreach Work with Marginalized Ethnic Groups and Foster Care for Children with Special Needs.

Let’s look at how EQ built connections in each of these contexts.

CONNECTING – socially 

Prevention of Abandonment and Early Intervention (EI) 

On many occasions, EQ needs to ask families to take a leap of faith. The approach to early childhood development (0-6 years) is dominated by an outdated medical model and we need to counteract its negative emotional and psychological impact especially among parents of very young children with disability (or other special needs) who often want to abandon their children on the basis of dubious diagnoses and pessimistic forecasts about the child’s potential. Beyond the provision of counseling and support to parents of babies with low birth weight, disability or significant development problems that can lead to home-based support from our multidisciplinary EI team, EQ also promotes and helps coordinate support networks for parents. In the latter part of 2014, we launched an initiative that focuses on mixed-ability play therapy. The approach is participatory – parents are encouraged share the therapeutic / educational experiences with the children and we demonstrate ways in which they can continue the routines at home. 

ACTIVE Support for Vulnerable Families 

Bulgaria lacks a legal definition of Family Support and services for children and families are provided in the context of child protection. This tends to encourage a focus on familial weaknesses and risk factors and a tendency to overlook those strengths that can form a platform for growth. The model of ACTIVE Family Support was developed by EQ’s long-term partners Hope and Homes for Children and they provide the following description –

Active Family Support ….. targets support in five integrated areas – living conditions, family and social relationships, education, physical and mental health and household economy. This enables us to build up a detailed picture of a family’s strengths as well as the areas which make them vulnerable. The key to our approach is that each intervention is based on individual needs and circumstances, empowering the children and families themselves to contribute to a successful outcome. 

Outreach Work with Marginalized Ethnic Groups

For over three years, EQ has undertaken mobile work in Roma focusing on prevention of abandonment, family planning and early intervention. In 2014, we designed the project “Confident Parents for Successful Children” funded by the Trust for Social Achievement that focuses on mobile / outreach work with parents of young children in marginalised Roma communities to prevent risk and disadvantage in early childhood. Work starts in 2015 and it draws on components of our Early Childhood Development programme adapted to enable the project team to work directly with parents who are educationally disadvantaged and often very young (parenting skills) and also to host workshops that focus on play and the style of interaction with babies that promotes healthy bonding. This area of work depends crucially on the cultural sensitivity and awareness of our team members, Turkish language capability and positive relationship with community leaders. 

Foster Care for Children with Special Needs

Ruse leads Bulgaria in the successful placement of children with special needs in foster care. Until recently, it was deemed “impossible” and contrary to cultural tendencies / value systems but we benefit from the strength of our relationships with a mutually-supportive group of highly experienced foster parents who have undergone the additionally preparation to develop the skills and attitudes needed to care for children with disability. They support our actions with new and inexperienced foster parents and are an inspiration to everyone 

CONNECTING – professionally 

Prevention of Abandonment and Early Intervention (EI)

In November, the work of Equilibrium was featured in a conference organized by Bulgaria’s National Network for Children, For Our Children Foundation and UNICEF that also involved input from international experts. The early intervention programme for children with special needs undertaken in the Ruse complex is acknowledged as one of ten good practices in a publication linked to the conference. Our success is linked to the training provided to members of our EI team by Karin Dom Foundation (Varna) and the close working relationship between our two organizations that enables the exchange of experience and know how. Indeed, Karin Dom has invited EQ to take on a national training role in early childhood development and early intervention.

In April, EQ became a partner in a formal agreement involving the city hospital, the Regional Directorate of Social Assistance and the Child Protection Department. Not only does this formalize the relationship between the medical establishment and social services, it provides a framework for the development of EQ’s work in preventing the abandonment of infants that is coordinated with our other programmes in a manner that ensures our approach is holistic – Total Family Support. Our work combines diagnosis and rehabilitation (coordinated with doctors and psychiatrists) with advice and support with learning disability / difficulty (coordinated with the actions of educators and kindergarten staff) and play therapy in mixed-ability groups with specialists in attendance.


ACTIVE Support for Vulnerable Families 

EQ benefits from a close working relationship with Hope and Homes for Children – Bulgaria (HHC-BG).We work together as a united force in support of the government’s Action Plan for deinstitutionalization. HHC-BG specializes in creating coordination mechanisms in locations where DI is taking place while EQ   


Outreach Work with Marginalized Ethnic Groups

During 2014 EQ was asked to participate in the planning and design of a project to be undertaken by Ruse municipal authority and working partners. It focuses on the development of a coordinated approach to the integration of Roma and other marginalized groups in Ruse municipality. The invitation was made in acknowledgement of EQ’s key role in pioneering mobile service provision among isolated groups.


Foster Care for Children with Special Needs

It is natural for Child Protection Departments (CPDs) to be highly risk averse when they are heavily over-worked and under resourced. The fact that children with special needs have been placed in foster care says a great deal about the faith that CPD has in EQ’s family support capability.


A component of a project undertaken by the Red Cross (Social Programme for Providing Services and Support to Children and Young People Leaving Social Care Institutions)  aims to enhance understanding of foster care practice and encourage a new culture of foster care in Bulgaria. Not only does EQ collaborate with the Red Cross in the context of its project, young volunteers from the organization supported EQ events during the year and have helped with the play group (see Early Intervention). This is consistent with the EQ philosophy of reciprocal action and multifaceted relationships.


Building Social Capital 

EQ has invested time and energy into making the Ruse complex a social hub – a place where we can bring together disparate groups from among our clientele and the general public and build informal and unconventional connections among those groups. On this basis, EQ forms strong coalitions of support in the community and we draw volunteers and supporters to the complex from among the families or our personnel, clients, foster / adoptive parents, trainees in philanthropy and community projects from local schools and members of the city’s artistic community. Drawing on this diverse support, EQ was able to put together an ambitious programme in celebration of our 10th anniversary that provided unrelenting entertainment, craft sales and public information bulletins for shoppers in Ruse Mall over a period of several days.

Foster / adoptive parents: During September, the Ruse complex hosted a National Information Day for Adoption – the first to be held in Bulgaria under an initiative of the Bulgarian Association of Adopted Children and Adoptive Parents. This was quickly followed by the fifth of our annual meetings for friends of adoption and foster care that combine with more regular get-togethers confirming our commitment to making these issues visible and building support networks.

Youth Initiatives: Having had the approach we use in the Centre for Street Children acknowledged as good practice by the National Network for Children in the context of a project on young citizenship, we presented our approach to child participation and the involvement of young adults in community initiatives at their AGM in Sliven. This confirms our position as a leader in the mobilizing of teenagers in support of social causes and explains the faith we place in young adults as fundraisers, event organizers and animators during summer camps and other group work with vulnerable children.

Building a Professional Profile 

During 2013, EQ worked on developing the training and presentation skills of all our professional team members and this enabled them to identify their special interests and consider whether they would like to share their insights and experience with other professionals. On this basis, many team members have shared their expertise as contributors to projects undertaken by other organizations or as trainers under the banner of EQ’s own Expert programme through which we offer low-cost training packages to a wide variety of professionals who work with children.

Child-friendly Interview Room (“Blue Room”) 

We have a new child-friendly interview room at the complex for the protection of children involved in the judicial process (eg victims of abuse and young witnesses)The first formal interview was conducted in the new hi-tech blue room during November. Not only does the room have features that allow an interview to be viewed and recorded from outside, it is decorated in soft, pastel colours and is welcoming for children and  equipped with materials and objects (coloured pencils, paper, dolls, glove puppets) that our psychologists can use to help obtain information in a non-threatening manner.


2015 and beyond

EQ took a leading role in deinstitutionalization by providing the implementation team for the closer of the first baby home in Bulgaria. We are now taking practical steps in steering community-based services in the direction of Total Family Support. As a member of the coalition Childhood 2025, we work with our peers to keep the national DI programme on track. However, as a team blessed with zeitgeist, we like to lead by example however modest that action may be.