You are probably reading this because you saw or heard about Kate Blewett’s “Bulgaria’s Abandoned Children” – a documentary which tracks a few months in the Mogilino group home for children with mental disabilities. The film drew the attention of thousands to the abuse and neglect of 67 children that has been going on for years but somehow never attracted interest outside of human rights groups.
Giants like Amnesty International and Mental Disability Rights International and smaller national organizations such as the Helsinki Committee and Save the Children have declared the conditions and care in such group homes inhumane and in violation of children’s rights not once and twice, but repeatedly over the last decade. Since the late nineties many annual and special human rights reports on Bulgaria emphasize the need for change in the way the state treats children with disabilities.
This change is only now beginning to happen. In late 2007, after Kate Blewett exposed the cruelty behind the doors of the group home in Mogilino.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy has agreed to implement a six month evaluation of the home and finally close it in cooperation with experienced non-governmental organizations. The children are to be placed with host families and in smaller homes in Rousse where they are to live in a more family-like atmosphere with their staff. This is an ambitious goal that UNICEF Bulgaria, the Ministry of Social Policy, For Our Children, the Bulgarian Association of People with Intellectual Disabilities and a few other organizations have set for themselves for the next six months. When all children are placed in appropriate care, the home is to be closed down.
However, not many Bulgarian families volunteer to care for a child with a disability. The availability of alternative services such as small homes (aka protected homes) in Rousse is also a source of anxiety.
Yet, this plan is a first for Bulgaria. Up until now the Bulgarian government closed such homes randomly and only to transfer the children to another similar home. In two cases the homes were not closed at all – they were transformed into institutions for adults, while the minors were sent elsewhere.
On the surface, however the Minister of labour and social policy Emilia Maslarova continues to deny the magnitude of the problem and routinely belittles the public and media outcry. To media questions she responds with statements beginning with “We will” or accusations of political and financial agenda to discredit Bulgaria on part of BBC and the Bulgarian NGOs which participated in the creation of the film. The minister does not publicly acknowledge the role of UNICEF and For Our Children in the resolution of the case.
So far the following has been accomplished in Mogilino:
- A pediatrician assessed each child and made recommendations. She has been back to make sure her input has been taken into account
- Some children were treated in a hospital. Vaska was one of them. Stoyan underwent surgery on his esophagus and now no longer vomits his food
- Milen and Mihail moved to a small home (aka protected home) in Pazardzhik
- The children have new feeding schemes. There are now five meals per day, the food is sufficient and there is fruit as well eggs which had not been served for years
- UNICEF and For Our Children have dispatched a coordinator and administrative assistant in Mogilino. They will supervise the evaluation of the individual need of each child by specialists who have started to arrive. So far six children have been assessed and have recommendations for rehabilitation
- Two children are working with a therapist
- The Rousse health services are working on better hygiene for the kitchen
- The municipality has agreed to provide additional 4000 lv per month for food as well as additional funds for central heating in the winter
- The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy bought bedsheets, clothes and vitamins for 7000 lv
- The home has a new bus with a wheelchair ramp
Yana Domuschieva writes on human rights issues in Bulgaria. She has been following the Mogilino story since September. In October she started the Mogilino blog and is a chief contributor to it. You can visit the blog here.