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On the 28th December 2010, the Council of Ministers announced the official closure of Teteven institution for children 0 to 3 (officially Home for Medical and Social Care for Children – HMSCC).

In the note explaining the reason for the decision there was a reference to Hope and Homes for Children / Equilibrium project which lead to moving all children out of the institution into family care and establishing alternative to the institution services. Out of the 32 children assessed and worked with –

  • 20 were adopted nationally
  • 10 were reintegrated in their biological families
  • 2 were placed in long-term foster care

NGO “Equilibrium” – Ruse (Bulgaria), “Hope and Home for Children” (United Kingdom) and the Municipality of Teteven (Bulgaria), are jointly implementing the project “Restructuring of the Home for Medical and Social Care for Children (HMSCC) in Teteven and development of alternative social services for children and families”. The project will be conducted over a period of 24 months – from January 2010 till December 2011. The project is supported by the Bulgarian Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy and also by the State Agency for Child Protection and this support is ratified in formal agreements that guarantee a smooth transition between institutional care and the operation of a complex for social services for the children and families from the community.

“Hope and Homes for Children” is a British children’s charity which carries out programmes aimed at deinstitutionalization in Central and Eastern Europe as well as in Africa. Over the past 10 years, the organisation has managed the closure of 37 specialised institutions and has provided technical support for the closure of another 18. As a result, 6.955 children and young people have left the system of institutional care, and because of the successful prevention of child abandonment, another 11.078 children continued to live with their families. The model of deinstitutionalization of “Hope and Homes for Children” is recognized by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO), as represnting best international practices in this area.

NGO “Equilibrium” – Ruse is an organization, based in Ruse, Bulgаria, which manages the Complex for Social Services in Ruse, consisting of a Community Support Centre with an Emergency Admissions Unit, a Centre for working with homeless children and a small group home gor disabled children. Equilibrium has pioneered the development of alternative services for children and families and team members have a wealth of experience in direct social work as well as in the development of innovative services.

The project is funded by a British donor – “The Bulgaria Abandoned Children’s Trust”, whose efforts are aimed at the prevention of the placement of children in specialised institutions in Bulgaria, at the closure of specialized institutions and the development in their place, of alternative social services. During the first phase of the project, the children placed in the HMSCC (32 in number) were evaluated as were their families to assess the potential for reintegration. This was done jointly with specialists from the Departments for Child Protection in the Lovech district and in those neighbouring communities from where the children accommodated in the HMSCC came from. Individual plans for the removal from institutional care and subsequent placement of every child into an appropriate form of family care were developed.

During the period of preparation for reintegration we provided access to municipal housing or to a rented flat, payment of the domestic overheads, health insurance costs, fees for issuing personal identity documents and birth certificates, transportation to the HMSCC when visiting the children, food, clothing, baby equipment and household appliances.

Another important component of the project is the prevention of abandonment of newborn babies through the provision of advice and financial support working together with the Departments for Child Protection from the district of Lovech and the neighbouring communities, from which children have previously been sent to HMSCC – Teteven. We have worked on the prevention of 21 cases of abandonment of children aged from 0 to 3 years, where we have provided food and baby supplies, financing for the issuance of documents, travel expenses, building materials and firewood.

For the children who can’t live in their families, one of the most important alternative services is foster care, including emergency and short-term accommodation for children under the age of 3 years. In Lovech and in the Municipality of Cherven Bryag, we have delivered 19 multimedia presentations about the nature of foster care, and they were attended by about 200 people. The cable television networks in Lovech, Teteven and Troyan, are broadcasting specially prepared material on the topic. We have trained 16 candidates for professional foster parents. After the training, one existing foster family changed their profile and are now ready to adopt babies.

Improving the capacity of local professionals to prevent child abandonment and support children in alternative family care was an important part of the project. Three training modules were conducted: coordinated effective prevention by identifying and pooling all existing local resources; training for foster parents; adoption as a child protection measure conducted in the best interest of the children.

During 2010, the Teteven Municipality implemented the Project “The future of the children in our hands” – Contract BG 051PO001-5.2.03-0030-C0001, carried out with the financial support of the Operational Programme “Development of Human Resources”, co-funded by the European Union through the European Social Fund (ESF).

During the implementation of the project, within a period of 100 days, we have provided training, supervision and a practical ntroduction to new work practices to the staff of HMSCC – Teteven, for social work case management, child development, the consequences of institutionalization, group work with children and families, counselling for children with behavioural problems and for their families, the formation of social and life skills. This possibility for retraining (pre-qualification) helpedmany of them to secure employment in the new services. Out of 27 institution staff 21 applied for a job in the new Centre of Social Support and 16 were offered employment.

The premises occupied by the baby home has been converted and starting from 01.01.2011 a system of social services will be provided within the framework of a Centre of Social Support (CSS) for children at risk, from the age of 0 up to the age of 18 years by a team of 25 social workers, psychologists, teachers, nurses, rehabilitator and carers. The CSS will contain the following basic units –

  1. Emergency Admissions Unit for crisis accommodation, with a capacity of 6 children, with a maximum duration of the stay of three months
  2. Day-care for children at risk, to meet the basic needs of child development – hourly, half day or full day if necessary
  3. Centre for Foster Care
  4. Mobile Unit working on the prevention of abandonment and institutionalization
  5. Centre for children with deviant behaviour and at risk of dropping out of school

The beneficiaries of the services will be children and families at risk from the Municipality of Teteven and, in addition, the Emergency Admissions Unit and the Mobile unit for prevention of abandonment and the Centre for foster care, will operate regionally.

During 2011 of “Equilibrium” and “Hope and Homes for Children”, will be focus on improving the Centre of Social Support (CSS). The monitoring of the reintegrated children and support for their families, the recruitment and training of new foster families and the prevention of abandonment will continue.

The implementation of the project has created a model for the reform of the specialized institutions for children, aged from 0 to 3 years in Bulgaria and for the provision of care for children at risk, based entirely on a set of alternative services for support within the family or though provision of family-type care. HMSCC – Teteven is the first institution of its kind in the country to be restructured into a new type of social service.