January 26 2023
On October 19, 2022 in the Early Childhood Development Complex, Plovdiv, For Our Children Foundation hosted a discussion on local policies and measures for the implementation of the European Child Guarantee. The event was held in partnership with Unicef Bulgaria and the Municipality of Plovdiv. It was attended by representatives of the Plovdiv RSE, the Plovdiv Regional Health Inspectorate, kindergartens from the city and the region, social and integrated services for children and families, a hospital and a primary school.
The discussion is part of a series of meetings at local level, which aim at a conversation between municipal authorities, specialists from the education, health and social services systems and civil society organizations, on possible actions at local level that will improve access of children from vulnerable groups to basic services.
The basis for the discussions were the data, conclusions and recommendations of the UNICEF Bulgaria report “No/equal childhood”, which contains a comprehensive analysis of child poverty and social exclusion in Bulgaria. The analysis was carried out by a research team from For Our Children Foundation, the Institute for Population and Human Research of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and the National Network for Children.
At the opening of the meeting, Dr. Ivanka Shalapatova, Executive Director of For Our Children Foundation, stressed that discussions such as this one give real life to the research on child poverty and social exclusion because they identify good practices that need to be built upon and provide ideas for the practical implementation of the recommendations. Ms. Shalapatova expressed the hope that conversations between institutions and other organizations working for children’s well-being help to build better partnerships by maintaining communication, aligning actions to achieve common goals and building trust between partners.
The participants were welcomed by Ms. Nadia Klisurska, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Policy, Ms. Maria Zlatareva, Programme Director at Unicef Bulgaria, and Ms. Veselina Boteva, Director of the Social Policies Directorate at Plovdiv Municipality.
Ms. Diana Yancheva, Deputy Chairperson of the National Statistical Institute, commented on the lack of systematic data on children in the country, which makes the processes of planning and evaluation of measures against poverty and social exclusion ineffective. Ms. Maria Zhelyazkova, representative of the European Anti-Poverty Network and the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, stressed that children’s well-being requires a strong public commitment, which is currently not being implemented. The high levels of inequality in Bulgaria have a direct bearing on child mortality, access to education and healthcare.
In their statements the participants highlighted good practices of interaction between individual social services and kindergartens that support children, their families and professionals and support the inclusion of children with disabilities in pre-school education. The work of social services in kindergartens and primary schools has a preventive role and impacts on changing attitudes towards inclusion of vulnerable children, both on children and on educators and other professionals. Teamwork of professionals from different sectors is an important prerequisite for effective work with children with disabilities. However, there is still not good coordination between the different systems, and there is a lack of information in nurseries and kindergartens about the opportunities provided by social services to support children and parents. There are rather isolated cases of partnerships between hospitals and social services in cases of children with disabilities or children at risk of abandonment. Mobile services are limited, so parents in smaller communities in the region do not have access to the support they need for their children.
At the end of the discussion, participants agreed that such meetings are very useful and should be held periodically. This will enable the three systems – education, health and social activities to act as a comprehensive network for the benefit of children and parents.
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