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In the winter of 2021, the Velux Foundation published the fourth volume in its series ‘Making Systemic Change Work’. The title of the publication is ‘Deinstitutionalization in Bulgaria’, and the book was produced by a team from EQ – author: David Bisset, consultant: Galina Bisset and editor: Lora Sarkisyan.

Deinstitutionalization is defined as “the complex and multi-faceted process of departing from a care system that relies heavily on large, residential institutions for children and moving towards a modern system that does a better job of preventing the separation of children from their parents or providing more appropriate care options if removal from the family is in the child’s best interest”.

The development of social services is part of the larger process of deinstitutionalization and, having provided the implementation team that closed the first “baby home” in Bulgaria and played a prominent role in supporting the national deinstitutionalization programme, EQ manages an extensive array of social services. In this context, we do our best to keep families together but also provide permanent care to children and young people who, for one reason or another, cannot be reintegrated into their families.

The years 2020 and 2021 were especially challenging for providers of social services because of the COVID epidemic. The impact of material poverty and social isolation was accentuated. Families containing children with health issues and / or special needs became more vulnerable. The identification and supervision of cases of neglect, psychological and physical abuse and drug or alcohol abuse became fraught with difficulty. Parents and other care providers had to contend with the challenges of home schooling.

Equilibrium was fortunate to receive two grants under the IRIS programme administrated by the Workshop for Civic Initiatives Foundation that helped us provide essential support to families directly affected by COVID 19. As well as providing a broad range of material support and arranging for the intervention of specialists, EQ produced and distributed to small publications: 1. Ways to protect against COVID 19 and 2. Advice on early childhood development (ages 0-2 years) and parenting considerations.

Needless to say, the improvisational skills of our service teams were tested in full.

Improvisation was also demanded from our project team working with VIA University College from Aarhus in Denmark (see: http://eq-bg.org/en/early-years-pedagogy-bulgaria-and-denmark/). Our joint work had been taking place in the Brothers Grimm Kindergarten in Sofia and although the kindergarten was operational during the period of the pandemic, visits by external trainers was out of the question and was work relating to the re-modelling of the outdoor play area.

However, we continued to collaborate using an online platform sustaining the progress of a project that was award-winning. The State Agency for Child Protection applauded our contribution to the lives of young children.