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Following the introduction of the state of emergency on March 13, our primary concern was to provide the 6 residential services (family-type accommodation) with food and disinfectants while ensuring they remained properly staffed. All caregivers and our drivers are over 60 years old and especially vulnerable.

There were no masks, the cost of disinfectant and gloves tripled and they were difficult to find. There was a danger that staff could become infected while using public transport or while queueing for food. We organized transportation from home to work with cars, provided masks and disinfectants, vitamins and antiviral supplements for both staff and the children and young people in our care.

We quickly reorganized our work in other services to be able to communicate in the context of social separation. At the centre for social support (CSS), professionals talk to and counsel children and parents over the phone or via social media – whether there is a morbidity in the family, are they staying in quarantine, how do they handle the situation, is there a risk of domestic violence.

There are on-call specialists on a daily basis who maintain communication with the Child Protection Unit and other institutions. Essential foodstuffs, diapers and medicines are distributed to the most deprived families are a range of delivery methods are used – sending by intercity bus or picking them up from the CSC personally, observing all precautionary measures (for example, reception is now outside the building). So far, 15 of the most deprived families have been supported, and we are ready to support 10 more. Of these 15 households, 8 are large families with 3 or more children. Half the families have babies.

Here is a typical case – the family has 5 children, 2 of them aged 2 and 3. The father is abroad and has not been able to return home. He does not send money because there is no work at the moment and the mother receives only child allowances. Two of the older children are ill and the ambulance refuses to visit them. The GP also refuses to visit them but issues a referral. We provided them with transport to the pediatrician and paid for the essential medicines. We have provided them with food twice and will assist them with transport for check-ups.

At the centre for street children (CSC), each child has an individual programme and schedule for online work with specialists. Specialists provide video or telephone educational, psychological and social counselling. There is also online work with groups of children (video link) on topics relevant to children and related to the crisis. We are looking for options to provide free mobile devices for children who do not have their own. Social workers maintain periodic contact with parents / carers – are there any morbidity or other serious problems in the family and are prepared to provide crisis support in case of need for medication or other necessities.

At the daycare centre for children with disabilities (DCCD) and the centre for social rehabilitation and reintegration (CSRI), specialists conduct video or telephone sessions (educational, logopaedic, psychological, physiotherapy and occupational therapy and social consultations. The psychologist conducts a group online work with children and parents (video link). We are also ready for crisis support.

Of course, there are also difficulties that we are constantly seeking to solve. Some of the children do not have personal mobile devices with Internet and are mostly consulted by telephone. Two young children do not have personal phones and – at the moment – communication with them is carried out with the support and assistance of their parents or loved ones. In all likelihood, these children will not always be able to get involved in group work. Remote contact with them should take into account the ability to use their parents’ mobile devices after working hours which is not always acceptable and convenient for families. The team is also ready to conduct sessions after business hours. Sometimes, links fail because there is no internet or the connection is bad. Clients do not always answer our calls despite having an appointment. Some parents cannot use the Internet.

Everything told so far was made possible by the support we received after we posted an appeal for help on social media. Immediate responses came from the Foundation ‘Do Good for a Stranger’, Networx, Rotary Club-Ruse, Lions Club-Rousse, Zonta Club – Ruse, America for Bulgaria and the US Embassy in Bulgaria, Vesela Odageva, Veselina Zapryanova, Zdravka, Sevgin Redzhebov, Borislava Daneva, Julia, Mila, Meral Ziaeva, Eleanor, Desi, Evelina Petkova, Petya Petkova and companies – Astra Pharmacies and Mr. Bedros Pehlivanyan, Shogun Company, OMV Bulgaria OOD.

As we have been working with children and families in Ruse for more than 10 years, not only as providers of social services, but also in the broader community. This means that more and more families pressured by crisis measures are turning to us for help. We are currently in a position to support them, but we expect long-term measures to lead to increased needs, in which case we will again ask for help.

We can do this together!