Bulgaria has the largest share of institutionalised children in Europe. This is due to a long-lasting state policy encouraging abandonment of children with and without disabilities in institutions instead of supporting families to take care of their children or supporting national and international adoption and foster care. Although some efforts on legislative and policy level have been seen, the effect of the current state policy is that an even larger number of children are being placed in institutions. This is so because of lack of sufficient alternatives to these institutions. Day-care centres, centres for rehabilitation or schools do not meet the needs of most of the children in Bulgaria who are in danger of being abandoned.
Children with mental and physical disabilities are subject to wide-spread discrimination due to lack of understanding that they are equal citizens in rights and that the state, local authorities and NGOs should respect and ensure the exercise of these rights. The state does not even keep statistics on the number and type of disability of these children. According to data from State Agency for Child Protection there are around 20,000. Some 1,500 live in institutions abandoned by their parents after birth, very often because the latter were advised to do so by physicians in the hospitals on the basis of a diagnosis and the understanding that no services exist to support the parents. Very often it turned out that the children were wrongly diagnosed and actually “labeled” as disabled on the basis of a wrong presumption without tests, second opinions, etc. But once a child is placed in an institution especially for disabled children his/her chances to get out are close to zero.
In 2007 a film “Abandoned children of Bulgaria” was made about one such home in the village of Mogilino, 60 km from Ruse, where 75 children live. The film was first shown on BBC4 in September 2007 and later on BBC2. The reaction in UK was very strong but in Bulgaria some perceived the film as a deliberate attempt to discredit the country. Taking advantage of the strong public reaction, several NGOs united their attempts to really deinstitutionalise all 75 children by providing individual care and services meeting the needs of every child. At the request of the Ministry of Social Policy, the NGOs started working in the Mogilino home, doing needs assessment and provision of immediate care for the children by placing there a group of 12 specialists. The project for assessment of the needs and the opportunities in Ruse for placement and care for all children costs 160, 000 leva, half of which is paid by UNICEF Bulgaria. Additional funds are now being sought to pay the salaries of the people who work in the home on the assessment and immediate care and who would design and organise the services needed for 75 children.
If you would like to help or find out more, please contact Slavka Kukova from the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee at email@example.com.