On its 10th birthday, November 15, 2019, the National Foster Care Association (NFCA) awarded foster parents, organizations, social workers, physicians, school, investors and journalists for their contributions to foster care. In the category “Children’s organization” Equilibrium received a special award “Child Saviour”. Mrs. Eva Zhecheva spoke about Equilibrium’s contribution to deinstitutionalization and work with children and families at risk. The excitement and tears of the leaders of “Mother dear” and those attending the event proved that foster carers are working with big hearts in foster care and their love can change the fate of children.
Timeline of success
The founders of Equilibrium started developing foster care in Bulgaria back in 2003, under the umbrella of the British organization “Save the Children”. The first voluntary foster families were set up in Ruse to accommodate children from institutions. The experience has been transferred to the management of the Complex for Social Services for Children and Families at Risk (CSSCF) in Ruse since its inception in 2005.
In support of the joint closure (with the UK’s “Hope and Homes for Children”) of the Home for Medical-Social Care (HMSCC) in Teteven in 2010, the Equilibrium team launched an intensive foster care roadshow campaign in many towns and villages of Lovech District and created the first foster families in Teteven municipality. One of the first placements of a newborn baby in foster care, countrywide, was supervised by us. The young R., born at the Teteven hospital, was placed with a first-time foster family in the village of Glava, Cherven Bryag. At that time, child protection departments in the country had serious fears and resistance to foster care for newborns. The head of CPD Teteven at that time was Pavlina Mihailova, who strongly supported alternative family care, as well as her colleagues from CPD Cherven Bryag.
Our experience in Teteven (Lovech District and Cherven Bryag Municipality) was transferred to Ruse and, in 2011, an intensive foster care campaign was carried out in the Ruse District, again in the form of a roadshow. Equilibrium supported one-year PRIDE training of 2 specialists, who subsequently applied their knowledge to a group of candidate foster parents and continue applying PRIDE elements to work with foster families at the centre for social support (CSS) at Complex of Social Services.
These actions were on the eve of the start of the “Accept Me” project and the Ministry of Health project “DIRECTION: Family” for the closure of HMSCC Ruse as one of the 8 pilot homes for babies. The soil had been successfully prepared – new foster families had been created, the skills of the team had been refined. At the end of 2012 – beginning of 2013, only babies with disabilities who needed foster care remained in the Ruse HMSCC. Our team worked with existing and experienced foster families. They met the children (thanks to the decisive actions of Yanka Kraleva – head of the Ruse Child Protection Department Ruse at that time) – and, without hesitation, undertook top-up training and agreed to care for disabled children, for whom the institution had been the only option until that time. Newborns with illnesses or premature infants were also placed in these foster families to prevent them from entering the baby institution, which was in the process of closure. The placements were successful because they were expertly supported by Equilibrium and financially and logistically – by Hope and Homes for Children. The process is reflected in the short film “Special foster parents of special foster children”.
With no extra funding, Equilibrium provided office space and technical support for the foster care team at the Complex of Social Services during the first phase of the “Accept Me” project in 2012 and also supported the foster families throughout Ruse District.
Work continued with foster families in support groups and through up-to-date trainings. With the assistance of volunteers from the Bulgarian Red Cross as part of a project of their own, who organised activities for the foster children, we were able to provide time and space for the foster parents to share, learn and create a supportive community. One of these trainings was conducted outside Ruse, in a picturesque village, situated in Polomieto national park.
Each month the Centre of Social Support works roughly with 20 foster children, together with their biological and foster parents. Each foster child leaves the foster family with their “Book of my Life” (a personal history) – a collaboration between the CSS team and the foster family.
Foster parents and children participate in the annual meetings “Friends of Adoption” which bring together adoptive families and their adopted children. The team works actively for a smooth and child-centered transition from foster care to adoption. Good practice in this area has been shared in a national working group to improve the foster care – adoption transition procedure, and standard 14c in the Foster Care Methodology is based on our advocacy activity during this working group.
We strive always to have a good interaction with the Child Protection Department and the District Foster Care Team, in the name of the foster child.
Foster care placements have been made from the Pink House (family-type accommodation for children and young people with disabilities) and Slancho (Sunny) – a special accommodation centre for disabled children and young people in need of continual medical care.
Since February 2017, Equilibrium has been supporting the Municipality of Silistra in the project “Accept me 2015” by providing training and supervision to all participants in the foster care process – District Foster Care Team, Child Protection Department, foster families, Foster Care Committee at the Regional Directorate of Social Assistance. In the national project reports the Municipality of Silistra is highly appreciated for the work of the District Foster Care Team and the broad profile and quality of care in foster families in the district.