Desislava Petkova, Social Worker, Senior with Management Functions: Our main priority is to make a positive difference in the lives of children

"Focusing on family counselling, training, individual work with parents and working with all family members produces results and reduces the risks of permanent separation or alienation between children and parents."

July 31 2023

In our column “The Foundation Speaks” we will present our activities in support of children and families at the Early Childhood Development Complex in Sofia. We will be presenting you with Desislava Petkova, a senior social worker with management functions.   

Desislava has been a social worker since 2006. She has been a volunteer at the Home for Children Deprived of Parental Care and then worked at the Crisis Centre for Children Victims of Human Trafficking and/or Violence, as well as at the Regional Foster Care Team. Desislava has been part of the team for support of children and families at For Our Children Foundation for three years. 

The Community Support Centre ” St. Sofia” at the Foundation was opened back in 2010. Tell us more about the services and specialists at the center?   

The history of the Community Support Centre began 5 years earlier as a Centre for work with children at risk in a room in the now former “St. Sofia” Home for Medical and Social Care – the place which in 2021 was transformed by “For Our Children” Foundation into a Complex for Early Childhood Development.   

Our services change literally every year. Changes in our users’ profiles, goals, ideas and working methods. I would say that our daily life is very dynamic, as a result of which we develop and increase the quality of the services we provide.   

Currently our team consists of social workers, early childhood development psychologists and early childhood intervention specialists. Each child and family works with a lead specialist, with another colleague involved depending on the specifics of the case. This makes it easier to build a trusting relationship and work towards empowerment. 

We work with children and families, parents who are separated from their children and want to reunite, prospective adoptive parents, children with disabilities or developmental difficulties and their parents, children placed in residential care. What unites us is that our main goal is to make a positive difference in the lives of these children.   

We provide a variety of services – for example, family support for safe care and risk prevention so that children can receive adequate care. We prepare prospective adoptive parents through interactive trainings including presentations, case work, role plays, discussions and exercises.   

Who do you help and what approaches do you use in your work? 

We help children and families, parents who are temporarily not raising their children, children in residential care, professionals from related systems – educational and health. Our activities are focused on supporting parenting and child development in early childhood – from pregnancy to school start. It is the first period that is of utmost importance for overall development and has the greatest impact on the later stages of each of our lives. It lays the foundations for physical and mental health, personal development, learning skills and integration abilities.   

We believe that the family provides the best environment in which to raise and educate children. Focusing on family counselling, training, individual work with parents and working with all family members is effective and reduces the risks of permanent separation or alienation between children and parents  

We also provide outreach, home and community-based social health services for parents of newborns and young children, and mobile early childhood intervention services for children with developmental difficulties. This enables us to better reach those in need and actually benefit from the support of our specialists. I can say that through our outreach activities, we also achieve a much better effect because families feel much more relaxed and confident. 

In addition, we have material support for children and families under a special program as part of the social services package.  

Innovative therapies are applied for children with disabilities and developmental difficulties, among them are music therapy and hippotherapy. 

Preventing newborns from being separated from their families is a challenge. How do you manage child abandonment?   

Unfortunately, preventing separation is extremely difficult to achieve. In some cases, we fail. The key things at the time we go to the mother are that she is given emotional support, understanding and information in an accessible way about what separation from her child will entail in terms of the law – what her options are, what will happen to the baby, what is the path she will take if she decides to get it back, etc.   

Last year, thanks to our timely intervention, we managed to prevent ten cases of abandonment of children who stayed with their biological parents. We partner with the biggest maternity wards in the city. Sofia – PSAGHAT “Sv. Sofia”, II “Sheinovo” and “Maichin Dom” Hospital.  

What are the main difficulties faced by the families you work with?   

In short – extremely diverse.  

A serious challenge we face is the growing number of parental conflicts in which children are turned into instruments of war between them. We are also often confronted with the inability of adults to respond adequately to the needs and demands of children, addictions and mental illness in parents, extreme poverty, violence in the family, etc. 

What have been the key successes since the start of 2023?  

Data from our activities in the first 6 months of the year show that we have worked with nearly 500 children, parents, and professionals. We provided emergency family support to 36 families, trained 120 people in parenting skills courses, trained 170 students in primary prevention, and implemented individual training sessions to build parenting capacity. We covered 30 children with developmental difficulties and special needs, children from nurseries and entrusted to community care under the early childhood intervention programme. We worked on 17 cases of separation of newborns from their families. Separately, our specialists supported families who needed financial, material and psychological help to care for their children, as well as children with difficult behaviour, children placed with relatives, adopted children, children at risk of dropping out of school, disadvantaged children, children whose parents were in conflict upon separation, etc. 

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