Cedar Foundation invites you to an international conference Deinstitutionalisation of Childcare: Investing in Change
The conference will take part from 6 to 8 November 2019 in the National Palace of Culture in Sofia.
This three-day conference aims at sharing and discussing relevant data and experience, promising practices and challenges in the field of Deinstitutionalisation (DI). Within the global context of this reform, the event will take an EU perspective, focusing on the reform’s specific national characteristics and on bridging the gap between the accumulated knowledge and decision-making in DI.
The conference will document the lessons learnt concerning the DI processes under the overarching question “How should we invest in the change DI has generated?”
Within it, three key sub-questions will guide the discussions:
To what extent does DI facilitate attachment relationships and provide the necessary conditions for child development?
Where and how should investments be made to ensure these relationships and conditions?
Which investments are effective and how do we measure their effectiveness?
In order to answer these, the conference will:
open up space for reflection, giving the DI actors a chance to position themselves in this large-scale and complex social change;
facilitate the exchange of knowledge;
inspire and motivate participants to identify strategic investment areas by creating evidence-based, effective childcare and family care mechanisms.
Prof. Kevin Browne, Director of Centre for Forensic and Family Psychology, School of Medicine, University of Nottingham; Prof. Peter Fuggle, Director of Clinical Services, Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, UK; Charles H. Zeanah, Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics, and Vice-Chair for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans; Nathan A. Fox, Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland in the Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology; Charles A. Nelson III, Professor of Pediatrics and Neuroscience, Harvard Medical School; Jana Hainsworth, Secretary General of Eurochild; Robert Gilligan, Professor of Social Work and Social Policy, Trinity College, Dublin; Prof. Frank Oberklaid, Honorary Professor of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne; Stela Grigoras, UNICEF ECARO; Andy Bilson, Emeritus Professor in Social Work, University of Central Lancashire .
Ministry of Labor and Social Policy of the Republic of Bulgaria; Know-how Center for Alternative Care for Children, New Bulgarian University; Cedar Foundation; UNICEF; Eurochild; SOS Children’s Villages; Hope and Homes for Children; Lumos Foundation.
The conference will bring together experts with world-class research on and practical experience of DI’s different aspects. Over 200 representatives from universities and educational bodies and training organisations, the European Commission, national authorities, international and local NGOs, service providers, child policy and child protection professionals from across Europe, Australia, Central Asia and the USA, will participate.
Parents’ and children’s views will receive particular attention.
Young researchers in the area of child welfare will be given dedicated space to present their results.
The participants will agree on a set of conclusions and guidelines for investment in childcare reforms and increasing the capacity for evidence-based DI policy development and implementation.
For registration http://www.disofia2019.com/registration-information/
How do we experience the world which surrounds us – through a complex mixture of sensory perceptions
Zhivko is a boy who tends to avoid meeting and communicating with other people. He would usually spend his time in front of a window, looking outside – as if he could be with other people only if he is safe behind a barrier. He doesn’t speak and typically communicates with difficulty. Similarly to Zhivko, children and youths living with disabilities usually have problem sensory perceptions. This is why, oftentimes, even seemingly mundane situations can be very confusing to them.
These children and youths, which comprise a big proportion of those who live in our family-type homes, have great difficulty with their sensory perceptions. This, in turn, has a significant impact on their social and communication skills. It also affects the coordination of their motor actions; they often react unusually to touch or movement, they shy away from communal games, they tip-toe when they walk. Conversely, they could also actively seek touch, speak loudly, fill their mouths or stumble into furniture or people. They are often vigilant so that they can protect themselves from the dangers of a confusing and frightening world.
To help Zhivko and the other children, who live with such disabilities, we created a program, which, through sensory stimulation, allows them to overcome their difficulties. With this therapy, we are developing and building on the children’s motor skills and behavior. Through this program, we stimulate every sense: touch, balance, hearing, taste, smell, sight, the sense of one’s body position in space, as well as the inner sensory environment, which regulates sleep, hunger, and thirst. With the use of hammocks, sensory pathways, massages, foam, pressotherapy, among other methods, we are giving the children and youths sensory stimulations which significantly improve their condition.
Children eagerly await the sensory therapy activities and engage in them with pleasure. After the therapy sessions, they display a much lower tendency for irritation and self-abuse, their focus is improved, as well as the balance and coherence of their actions.
Thanks to sensory therapy we are seeing positive changes in their behavior. Zhivko, for example, has become significantly more open to communication, he awaits therapy sessions eagerly, he is happy to be a part of the group, he laughs out loud, he even says a few words occasionally and is visibly happier than before.
We carry out the activities that form sensory therapy as part of the “Find me. Look at me. Support me. Support for independent living and social inclusion.” funded by the European Union as part of the “Human Resources Development” operational programme.
We shared our experience in supporting child victims of violence at a regional conference on the subject
Over 150 experts from 10 countries, including the Executive director of the Cedar Foundation, participated in a 2-day regional convention “Smart investments in strategies and partnerships to prevent and address violence against children” in Sofia.
The forum was opened by the Social Minister Bisser Petkov, Jane Muita – representative of UNICEF – Bulgaria, Skender Syla, representative of WHO – Bulgaria and representatives of civil society organizations.
During the event, Alexandrina Dimitrova participated in a workgroup, dedicated to dealing with violence against children. She shared the organization’s experience in supporting child victims, accommodated in residential services in the context of deinstitutionalization. Alexandrina also talked about the growing need of turning the family-type homes in a specialized service with a highly qualified team, who will be able to look after the specific needs of these children.
The discussion produced recommendations for making the position “social worker” a more prestigious one; improving the interaction between the different systems – social, educational, health, justice; increasing the social sensitivity on the subject of violence against children and drawing associates. There were more good practices introduced in the group by Bulgaria and Croatia. Furthermore, opportunities and challenges in the child victim support were discussed.
From the subjects that were presented at the event, it became clear that violence against children has lasting economic consequences, as the costs are between 1 to 4% of the countries’ GDP. Hence it would be economically beneficial for every country to invest in prevention by providing quality universal services for the children and their families. Experts shared that a positive and healthy relationship with an adult is what might help the child victim to overcome the trauma and prevent the risk of further violence. The topic of child participation was also covered as a good practice of the Cedar Foundation. It was presented by a poster in a photo exhibition of the Know-how center of alternative care for children at NBU.
The representatives at the convention raised all major problems and called for creating policies for fight and prevention of violence, and uniting the institutions and citizens.
The majority of the children and youths in our family-type homes were abandoned shortly after their birth. It is inevitable that from an early age this event would leave some emptiness in their lives. For them, growing up in parallel with photos, that can be compiled into an album is impossible; they don’t have any baby photos with Mom, Dad, or Grandma, no photos from family celebrations. This lack of that positive history, which begins from the family and creates a healthy foundation for the future development of every individual, brings emptiness and makes finding oneself considerably more difficult.
Through the “Find Me” project, we provided support for a more independent life and social inclusion by applying the psychodramatic therapeutic approach of Photo Drama.
Sixty-two children and youths, 48 of which live with some sort of disability, took part in the project. Photo Drama helps the development of children and youths by allowing them to create and enrich their personal history, based on reality, which they inhabit. Photo Drama is performed in a group and within a protected environment. Through the support of their mentors, the children and youths observe, explore and come to know themselves with the help of photography. Through photography’s shooting, review, and analysis, a strong therapeutic effect is brought about in a group setting.
During the photo sessions, the youths had the opportunity to get to know themselves as well as the others around them. They observed and analyzed their feelings when their photos were taken and studied their image. The group discussions, through the help of the mentors, helped them develop their abilities to share and presenting through images, and improved their sense of their equality within a group.
In addition, the Photo Drama sessions helped the youths in our centers develop their skills and talents. They independently chose their roles and appropriate outfits. In a number of sessions, they had the opportunity to live out the feeling of posing in front of a camera, and enacting their role by wearing make-up and the appropriate costume.
The usage of this therapeutic method has shown that observing one’s photo image, even in children living with intellectual disabilities, often leads to an improvement in their self-assessment and self-confidence. In addition, it inspires a positive emotionality in the children’s psychology and assists in their personal development.
We realized the Photo Drama activities with the support of the “Centaur Art” Foundation as part of the “Find me. Look at me. Support me. Support for independent living and social inclusion.” funded by the European Union as part of the “Human Resources Development” operational programme.
The Annual Meeting of the National Network for Children took place at the end of June in the town of Hisarya. George and Peter, two of the boys living in a residential home, participated and were supported by their team lead Maya Coneva. During the event, they took part in the educational panels and discussions. In the time that was left, they learned more about the ancient history of the town and networked with same age pupils from around the country.
George, who took part in the youth program for defending children´s rights called “Megaphon 2017-2019”, received a certificate for participating in the platform. He was highly motivated and actively participated in various organizational and invention activities. During the event, George also took part in training on children´s rights and child and youngsters’ participation. There he was delighted to present his essay on his role as a ‘reporter’:
“I started my role as a reporter for “Megaphone” about a year ago and I can say that this experience has helped me grow as a person and as a citizen.
I live along with children and youngsters from various ages (oldest ones are nineteen) in a residential home in Kazanluk managed by Cedar Foundation. They filled the questionnaire and answered my questions. Each month I picked at least eight of my friends and together we discussed current topics related to the society we live in. Then I collected, put together, and sent their responses.
This activity helped me learn more about the people I live with while the preparation for the sessions broadened my horizons about status quo topics.
What I found most challenging in my role as a ‘reporter’ was to motivate the participants to express openly their opinions and to stick to them. I see this as a failure of the educational system, in which we are only encouraged to paraphrase somebody else´s opinion or learn it by heart.
The most intriguing topic I worked on is ‘How to cope with cyberbullying’, because it affects me and people my age directly. Thus, we always need to be prepared for the dangers on the internet.
‘Reporting’ is a mission, thirst for knowledge and a new way of exploring the world around you. So, don´t hesitate to become a part of our team and to ‘have your voice heard’.”
In addition to youngsters´ participation, in the spare time they did some sightseeing around the town of Hisarya. They explored the Archeological museum in the town and the Tibetan Art Exhibition.
The “Children Belong to Us All” Initiative Fosters the Integration and Education of Children without Parental Care
The “Children Belong to Us All” campaign, which aims to change the Bulgarian society’s attitude towards children without parental care and its perception of charity, began this June. The campaign is run by the popular children’s TV channel Cartoon Network in partnership with The Cedar Foundation, The “Child and Space” Association, The International Social Service Bulgaria Foundation and a number of telecommunication companies.
An informational website, where anyone can learn more about the goals, the efforts and the development of the campaign is now online. In addition, an informational video clip on the topic will be broadcast across the country. The video’s aim is to motivate people to rethink the ways in which they see children, who are perceived as different.
The partnering organizations stand behind a common goal—to help underprivileged children and youths find recognition as rightful members of society. In Cedar’s family-type residence homes, as well as in those of the other partnering organizations, there are children and youths without parental care. One of the most important goals of the organizations is to offer a wide variety of activities, which would help children and youths to acquire skills, essential to successfully tackling the challenges in life. For the children, and for society as a whole, it is essential that they are given support in the development of their potential, and that they are aided in establishing fulfilling relationships and friendships, so that they can responsibly take on their roles in life.
The telecom and platform operators, supporting the campaign are A1 Bulgaria, Bulsatcom, Networx, Escom and Cabel Sat-West. As part of the initiative, the partners will provide additional support for the children, whose care is entrusted to the three foundations. For instance, a group of youths will visit an A1 Bulgaria office in Sofia, where they will learn about the different professions within the company, and the skills and education required for succeeding in each one of them.
At Cedar, we believe that children are a responsibility of each and every member of society, not only of those who look after them. We are happy that for the third year in a row we have been collaborating with the Future for the Children Association, distinguishing the people who take that responsibility and contribute to improving the lives of the children in Kazanlak.
The Future for the Children Award Ceremony took place on June 4th at the Rose Museum. These awards are proof that more and more people take personal responsibility, by investing their skills, time and resources in those who need them.
There were three categories of honors – “Public Figure”, “Business With a Cause” and “Child’s Friend”. An award was also given to three voluntary initiatives.
This year once again, the category with the most nominees was “Child’s Friend”, where the students of class 4B at “Nikola Vaptsarov” School were distinguished. The award “Public Figure” went to “Iskra” Library, and the “Business With a Cause” was granted to Rotary Club Kazanlak.
Three initiatives and campaigns, organized in support of Kazanlak’s children also awarded at the event – Stenli Nanchev, “1 Percent Change” Association and Petko Chirpanliev.
Our young adults, part of the folklore band “Mavruda” also took part in the ceremony, along with their director Dimitar Gaydarov. They gave a special musical performance for the guests of the event.
About the “Future for the Children” Award:
The award was created five years ago by the “Future for the Children” Association in order to honor public figures, citizens, friends of the child, donors, companies and civil structures, who support Kazanlak Municipality’s children.
Cedar Foundation embraced the association’s idea and have been partnering with them in honoring those who contribute to making children’s lives better, for three years now. Our common goal is to encourage volunteer work and charity at a local level and to prove that the future of Bulgaria’s children is up to each and every one of us.
Interview for Dnevnik
Yes, they also wish they were not needed at all. And that the state would take more responsibility. To look after and provide for at least the basic needs of the disadvantaged children, abandoned by their families. To finance much more and more effectively. To have an individual approach to children’s needs, to provide quality care, not just any care. And not to be so dependent on sporadic and unsustainable charity campaigns.
But until all this happens, can we wait? What choice do we have? We cannot just leave these children like that, says Alexandrina Dimitrova.
They are The Cedar Foundation and Alexandrina is the foundation’s Executive Director. For them, the difficult, even hopeless cases are not a lost cause. These cases for them are children with their own individual needs. They are Cedar’s cause, the everyday life of the 94 specialists and several more people in Sofia, who are trying to make sure that at least the basic needs and resources are covered.
Cedar manages 7 family-type homes for children and young adults with disabilities and one for children without families. They also have a center where adults with disabilities and their parents can get hourly care, consultations, attention, and rehabilitation.
24-hour care is provided to the 68 children, most of which with heavy disabilities, in the Kyustendil and Kazanlak centers. The young adults, without families to take care of them, are 13. They need very serious support, Alexandrina notes, as they have been in different homes and institutions for years, they were in foster families, they were taken, returned… and now are almost unwanted, because they are difficult, they are not small children and they carry their own problems and challenges.
As per the foundation’s data, children with disabilities, in homes in Bulgaria, are a little over 3000. In the last years, they were taken out of the inherited from the socialist period homes and institutions and transferred to family-type houses and homes, where they would receive better care and will be fewer people in the same place.
The state really does have a policy for shutting down homes, this is an undeniable success. There are successes for sure and Bulgaria is given as an example in our region. At the same time, not everything happens as we wished it would. And mainly, we wish people would understand that the physical shutting down of a large institution and building new small houses in its place, is definitely not the end of the process. In fact, this is only the beginning of the process, says Alexandrina.
She notes that now over 90% of the children and young adults, who used to live in institutions, are not there. Over 280 family-type centers were built across the country and barely 20-24 of them are managed by non-governmental organizations, which is less than 10%. Alexandrina shares that recently, almost surprisedly, she found out that actually, Cedar is the NGO, which looks after the biggest number of family-type homes for disadvantaged children.
“Municipalities want to delegate the management, they have called us to offer it. But organizations refuse because they know the financial, human and time resources that need to be dedicated. We have discussed it with colleagues, who manage such centers and the truth is that little by little, some of them start to get exhausted. Some of them might even give up”, she comments.
She also adds: “Providing quality new care does not just mean to build new centers and to provide minimum financing, but also to invest in the people, who work there, to provide them with enough motivation and training to do a job as difficult as theirs”. And it also means that the country should make this process sustainable. Unfortunately, this is far from how things actually are.
Each year Cedar needs to raise at least BGN 600 000 from corporate and private contributors, so as to guarantee the quality of care that is considered the necessary minimum. In order to be certain that we are doing things properly, explains Alexandrina. She wishes they could do even more, for example, to provide a personal carer to each of the children, who require around-the-clock care. At the moment, this is just a dream.
First and foremost, the foundation invests in people. If we only count on what the state has laid out as a standard and financing, our team would be 25 people less than it is now, the Executive Director of the foundation shares. The foundation calculated, however, that without these extra people, there is no way to pay the needed attention to each child, to proceed individually, according to its needs, to help the child develop and advance. In a situation of crisis, there are enough people to react and support the child. And furthermore, the specialists are not under such pressure that might prevent them from being adequate and capable of providing the necessary care.
Workers in the centers often get trainings, which are conformed to the current needs and are as practical as possible, which makes them very useful. Each month they get consultations with an external psychiatrist, where they can discuss the difficulties in their work and the approaches to the different children and young adults. This is extremely important, considering the difficult job they are doing and the tough cases they are dealing with.
Further to the above, the foundation invests in therapy, which at least in theory, should be covered by the state. In order to avoid all the waiting, often children go to private doctor consultations. Apart from that, the organization had to hire a specialist – physiotherapist, who is experienced and prepared enough to work with children, who had been lying in their beds in the institutions for years, without any movement or therapy. Children in this situation should have the opportunity to receive free physiotherapy in specific centers, however, the specialists there cannot take such complicated cases and provide adequate physiotherapy. This is why Cedar funds this service as well.
The situation with providing physical aids is the same. Recently one of the centers received two wheelchairs, specifically crafted in Romania, for two of Cedar’s children. They are specific because they have the needed soft padding and support, that will help the children take a position, which will not press them, disable them even more, or hurt them, while they are using the aid.
The wheelchairs are second-hand, but the Romanian company adapted them according to the needs of the two children. The wheelchairs were funded by sponsors and cost approximately BGN 1200 each. “We did receive wheelchairs, covered by state funds, but they were absolutely inadequate for the needs of these children and young adults. It’s true that we got the wheelchairs from Romania with a great discount, but I don’t believe they are much more expensive than the ones, provided by the state. The question is what for and how effectively the funds are spent”, Alexandrina explains.
In Cedar, they believe they cannot proceed without the extra funding, which, as they note, is very difficult to find, because people are more inclined to donate to causes, one-time and particular cases for support of a single child. It is more difficult to engage people into financing long-term all-day activities. And we have particular expenses every day, that cannot be overlooked, notes Alexandrina.
Not unless they want to be useful enough and provide quality care for the extremely difficult cases, inherited by the institutions. And this care reaps results. In Cedar, for example, they did not give up on a boy, who came to them two years ago and had been transferred all over until that moment. When he arrived in the family-type center, he was 10 years old and had already been moved in between 8 different places. “Institutions, foster families… he had changed the place where he lived each year. Everybody had given up on him. Because he is very tough and with difficult behavior, they had all decided they cannot deal with it”, Alexandrina remembers.
He is diagnosed with a mild form of intellectual disability, but practically, his issues are deriving from the fact that he had been abandoned multiple times and had been through serious violence. “Arriving to us, he was in a very bad condition, aggressive to the team, to the other children and even to himself. But we realized that he was just missing security, he was expecting abandonment again. And because we did not give into this, did not leave him, but persisted in finding activities, which were interesting for him and helped him exhaust some energy, he changed a lot”, Alexandrina says. Apart from being much calmer, they boy is now doing better in school, he has friends there, who come for his birthday, he went to the seaside for the first time last year, he learned to swim. “He believes in himself more now, he has calmed down”, she also shares.
Another boy, with cerebral palsy, goes to a public kindergarten. Children, who were left to lie in their beds all day before they came to Cedar, are now enjoying everyday walks and suitable outdoor activities for them, in their particular wheelchairs. The foundation invests a lot of effort in helping each child socialize as much as possible, to make it as individual and independent as possible. To get them at least a part-time job, if they have the abilities for it and to help them keep it. To make them feel useful. Happy. Each one, according to their abilities.
But for all this, the foundation needs at least BGN 600 000 a year. If you transfer the BGN 600 000 gathered by Cedar each year for the management of their less 10 centers and recalculate the needs of all the 280 such centers, the under-financing of the state will turn out to be very serious, experts calculate.
“For us, the perfect option would be if the state provided more financing for these centers so that it would cover at least the minimum basic and mandatory service. And our fundraising was spent on additional things like camps, new work methodologies, vacations, etc. But not for basic things. And right now we have to cover really basic things so that we can provide quality care and be sure that what we do has a meaning”, Alexandrina also shares.
In an attempt to turn around state policies, in recent years the foundation has been reaching out to institutions, having conversations, providing recommendations.
Last year, an expert group on deinstitutionalization, where Cedar are co-chairing, made an analysis, and gave recommendations on what needs to be changed.”We described the severe need for investment in people, in qualification, we presented it in front of the people, who create policies in the area. We managed to get an increase in the funds and instead of the traditional 10%, now we have 18% per year”, the foundation’s executive director notes.”This might be a step in the right direction but surely is not enough. Furthermore, long-term arrangements and sustainability have not been discussed, additional policies for the upcoming years have not been planned”, she adds.
Alexandrina continues to hope that the experts will soon be able to persuade the state, that a thorough rethinking of care is needed, stressing on the individual approach, not financing “per capita” per child, but according to its needs. Long-term sustainable policies. She also notes that it’s very demotivating when work in this area and all conversations need to start from the beginning, each time the government and responsible politicians changes.
She also thinks that: “Everything would be much better when we are no longer needed”.
Our General annual meeting took place on April 18th, 2019 at Hilton Sofia. It is normally held to honor and thank the foundation´s supporters and ambassadors. More than 50 of them attended the event.
Alexandrina Dimitrova, the foundation’s Executive Director, welcomed the guests and presented the Annual Report on the charity’s activities. She also shared with them the achievements, the challenges the foundation faced throughout 2018, and a few key highlights of the past year.
“In 2018 we continued to take care of more than 100 disadvantaged children and youngsters in our residential care homes in Kyustendil and Kazanlak. All of them have gone through extremely traumatic experiences in their childhoods such as abandonment, violence, and discrimination. Caring for them is difficult and requires patience. Building trust takes months or sometimes years. But the more we commit to them, the more resourceful they become. We pass on the messages and appeals they share with us to inspire contributors, volunteers or to seek support from institutions.”
You are ambassadors of the Cedar foundation, because you received the messages and appeals of our children and youngsters and like us, you passed them on. Thanks to your help Cedar found 25 new partners, received approximately 600 000 BGN levs for our residential homes, won the first place in the State Agency for Child Protection’s “Happy Childhood Guaranteed” competition.
After the formal announcements, the guests were left to enjoy the pleasant ambiance and to leave a personalized ‘Cedar’ message in the photo booth available for the event night.
The event was supported by our hosts at Hilton Sofia, Print I, who printed the Annual Report, and Photo King, who provided the photo booth.
We shared our good practices in the care for unprivileged children and youths
The Cedar Foundation hosted a 12-member delegation from Armenia, which included the country’s First Deputy Secretary of Labor and Social Policy, experts from the state and local governments, representatives from the NGO sector and UNICEF. The aim of this visit was for the guests to learn about effective social services, good practices and the learned lessons in Bulgaria. This experience can then be transferred and applied to the initiated deinstitutionalization reform in Armenia.
Our Armenian colleagues had the opportunity to spend a day at Cedar’s Family-type Home and the Social Rehabilitation and Integration Centre in Kyustendil. They took a close look at the organization models, which the Foundation applies, the various approaches in our direct work with the children and youths, the roles and responsibilities of the team and the successes and challenges, which are part of our daily work.
During the visit, the delegation was impressed by the individual approach to each child or youth, which Cedar’s team applies through the methodology of Planning with a Focus on the Individual, as well as by the improvements in the development of the children and youths. Our guests said that they would be happy to adopt what they learned here and adapt it to the situation in their home country. They received hand-made gifts from some of the youths, and they left saying that this was a very useful, emotional and inspiring visit.
Armenia’s recently begun reform aims to transform the specialized institutions into alternative services within the community and to expand the opportunities for providing care in a family environment. In addition to their meeting with The Cedar Foundation, during the visit, organized by UNICEF Bulgaria, the Armenian delegation was introduced to other successes and challenges of the process, as well as to the mechanisms of abandonment prevention.
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