In the weeks following the end of the lockdown things are slowly starting to go back to normal. Children are going back to daycare, restaurants are busy with excited customers, employees are returning to their offices.
While for most of us what remains of the lockdown are the masked people in the supermarket and the extensive use of hand sanitizer, the disadvantaged groups in our society are faced with a different reality.
Children and youth with disabilities deprived of parental care are the among the most vulnerable groups due to their complex diagnoses. The social workers are also in greater risk since most of them are close to or in retirement age.Lockdown has not ended for the ones who live and work in our Small Group Homes as the prеventive measures are still being strictly followed. Thorough daily sanitizing of the premises, social distancing and online therapies whenever possible are continued throughout social services both in Bulgaria, as well as in other European countries as we have come to recognise those services as most susceptible to the virus spread.
This is why, even though we are exhausted from the endless scrubbing with sanitising products, the constant explaining why we should wear masks and cannot go out and play with the other kids and the tiresome communication with pixelated colleagues, we should continue our efforts to stay healthy and avoid any risk of being close to the disease.
Our employees are still being transported to and from work, the expenses for hygienic materials are substantial, the social interactions of the children are limited to a minimum.
We are proud of what we have achieved in the past months. We have managed to keep our children safe and healthy and to train our social workers how to provide online care.
But there are more challenges ahead of us. Because we are not only responsible for providing primary care to those in need. We are also responsible for the emotional health and well being of both children and personnel and for updating and adapting our work systematically so that it answers the requirements of the everchanging reality we live in.
We are living and working in a different modality today. One which requires time and effort. One which we wouldn’t survive without dedication and support.
Our fundraising campaign for Support children at risk during the state of emergency is active here.
Every year we get together with our donors, partners, and friends to present our annual report and to extend our thankfulness to all of them.
The year of 2020 has been incredibly challenging, and we had to adapt quickly to the new realities. We had to postpone our Donor Appreciation Day, despite our desire to share our achievements with the people who support us. We replaced the live event with an electronically send digital report and letter written by our children and our team.
“Everybody experiences difficult moments in life and needs support to go forward. However, there are people who face those difficult moments too early in life, people for whom these difficult moments continue for too long and they have nobody to lean on. The Cedar Foundation exists for these people…. Thank you for being continually with us in 2019. We wish we will be together in 2020 again. Because together we could change lives.” – this is the message of Alexandrina Dimitrova, CEO of The Cedar Foundation sent to companies and individual donors who continue to support us even in a difficult year as 2020.
The Cedar Foundation reports the following achievements in 2019: The largest Non-Government Organization (NGO) in Bulgaria, provider of the social service ““Family-type centers for accommodation of children in need” with a team of 93 employees directly involved in taking care for the children and youngsters; Securing 11000 hours of specialized therapy for the needed ones; Successfully ending a project funded by the European Union, and many other successful initiatives.
For more on the Cedar Foundation’s achievements in 2019, follow the link.
Due to the state of emergency in the country, for 2 months now, the children and young people without parental care have not been allowed to leave the family-type centers that are their home. In these centers, they live in groups of 8 to 14 children, many of whom are vulnerable because of disabilities or illnesses.
The coronavirus poses new challenges to the children and young people’s care in these centers. Much more attention is required to secure their physical and mental well-being, including through the organisation and implementation of new interesting activities, to help them with the online studying, as well as to ensure constant disinfection and security in the centers. At the same time, many of the people who provide 24/7 care to the children, are at the Covid-19 risk group because of their age, and also need support.
We are raising funds to provide for the emergency needs of 70 children and young people in 8 family-type centers. The funds will be used to purchase protective equipment, food, educational and art materials for leisure, equipment for online studying, transportation for the staff, and online psychological support sessions.
Support our work, donate here.
An interview with Alexandrina Dimitrova – Executive Director of the Cedar Foundation on how the social services managed by the organization cope with the state of emergency and the physical isolation.
How has the COVID-19 crisis affected your work and what is happening to the children and young people living in your centers?
In the family-type centers, we had to put in place serious measures to maintain hygiene, ensure continuous disinfection, and secure protective masks and gloves. We took these measures even before the state of emergency was introduced in the country.
Many of the children and young people we care for have intellectual and physical disabilities, which puts them in danger. A large number of the staff at the centers is also in the high risk group. That is why we have limited the contacts with people outside the social services, and the children and young people can only go out in the yard of the respective center.
We face difficulties explaining to the children and young adults why they do not go to school or a day-care center, and why they cannot go for a walk or to the grocery store. Staying home often leads to behavioral crises. But our social workers and social therapists are constantly planning and implementing interesting activities, so for now, we keep the situation under control.
The specialists from our Social Rehabilitation and Integration Center work remotely with young people with intellectual disabilities and their families. All services and materials have been adapted so that the work can be done online. The feedback from the youth and their close ones is positive. Some of them say that their progress is even greater as they are excited about the opportunity to use new technologies.
What are the difficulties that the teams face and how is the work in your centers organized?
For our employees the main challenge is explaining to the children and young people why they cannot go outside the center and the yard, as well as coping with the crises that some of the children have because of the isolation. We are also concerned about their own safety, especially since some of them are at risk. For this reason, we have reorganized the shifts at the centers to make it easier for the teams, and to give them peace of mind as much as possible in the current situation. We provide them with additional incentives to the best of our ability, as well as continuous methodological and psychological support.
The costs for our residential social services are increasing as we need more food (the children and young people generally have lunch at school or at the day-care center Monday to Friday, while now they are home throughout the day), disinfectants, protective equipment, and thermometers.
The teams at the family-type centers cannot work from home because they take care of 70 children and young people around the clock. They are professionals who deal with severe crises on a daily basis even besides the situation with COVID-19. Currently, all the difficulties have multiplied and now, more than ever, we need to find a way to support the people who work directly with the children. They are our heroes.
Are there measures that the state can take to ease your work and address specific problems?
The main problem we face is the lack of guidance on what to do in case of an infected child/youth or employee, in any of the residential services. The way the services are organized and operated, and the number of rooms do not allow for isolation and quarantine.
We believe that quarantining the whole family-type center would be inappropriate because of the vulnerability of the children and youth accommodated there, and the inability of an employee to care for them around the clock during the 14 to 28-day quarantine.
We believe that in such a doubt, the child/youth or employee concerned should have the right to immediate testing. In case of a positive test, the employee should be quarantined at home and the child/youth at a hospital or at a non-working social building in the community. Guidance from the Agency for Social Assistance is needed in this regard.
Another problem of which we have been giving a warning for years, and is now coming back with particular urgency, is the obligation for a companion from our team when a child/young adult is admitted to hospital. We already had a case during the state of emergency, and a member of our staff had to accompany a young person to the infectious ward. This is extremely risky and does not fall within the responsibilities of our employees. Besides, government funding is not covering the costs of such overtime.
What external support do the teams receive and are there any problems that hinder your work?
We have received help from some community based social services. Their staff supports the work of our teams at the centers. Our teams are in contact with the doctors of our children and young people who provide telephone assistance. We also have support from our long-term donors.
We are experiencing difficulties with some new donors, so we urge anyone who wishes to help to first contact the charity they have chosen. The givers need to understand what the organization needs the most right now, and how to best organize the delivery of the donation so that everyone is safe.
What are the worrying trends arising from the current state of emergency?
The care we provide in our centers is directly linked to our ability to raise at least BGN 600,000 a year. Unfortunately, despite the great efforts we are currently making, many fundraising projects and events have been cancelled.
We hope that everything will quickly go back to normal because the needs of the young people and children at risk are daily and continuous. We are aware of the difficulties that most sectors are experiencing, and that everyone is currently mobilized to invest in the fight against coronavirus. We are concerned that donations will be affected in the long run because people and businesses will be unstable or will suffer financial losses.
For years, we have been paying attention to the low salaries in the social sphere, especially given the workload of the professionals in this field and the responsibility they carry. In the current situation, they face even greater difficulties and still do not receive the salaries they deserve.
This January our project “Discover me. See me. Support me.” came to its end. One of the closing events was a photo exhibition showing the experiences of the young people from one of our Small Group Homes during their photodrama sessions. Photodrama is a psycho dramatic therapeutic approach which was part of the project activities to teach the children and youth skills for independent living.
“I had just started to work at the foundation and I was looking forward to meeting the children. So my first official “meeting” was while we chose and prepared the photos for the exhibition. The photos showed the smiling faces of confident young people. Later in the day I met the kids themselves and the initial impression was confirmed. They communicated with confidence, worked very well in a team and it was a great pleasure to discuss topics that interested them. I was pleasantly surprised to see the actual effect of the work they did with various professionals during the project” – shared Adriana Gotsova, a team member from the central office in Sofia.
The project implementation continued more than a year with the main goal to increase the quality of life of 62 children and young people who live in the Small Group Homes managed by Cedar foundation in Kazanlak and Kyustendil. 48 of the children are diagnosed with severe intellectual disabilities. The project activities included a wide range of individual and group therapeutic work sessions; medical, psychological and social consultations to support independent life skills, various initiatives for social inclusion, and community events.
As a result, the emotional and physical state of the children and youth with intellectual disabilities has improved, they have learned new skills and improved their communication. The mentoring program which provided support to the children with no disabilities was focused on how to work in a group, improve presentation skills and preparation for the transition to independent life. Asking the youths about the project implementation and its effect they shared that they felt heard and appreciated. They were able to express themselves better and observe the response to their emotional needs and issues. Their motivation to go to school increased. They became more aware about the situation on the labour market and their personal development prospects.
“Discover me. Look at me. Support me. Support for independent living and social inclusion.” was funded by the European Union as part of the “Human Resources Development” operational programme. It has been nominated for the “Project of the year 2020” – an award given by the Tulip Foundation in an annual competition for the best projects in the social sector.In новини
The Cedar Foundation’s Executive Director Alexandrina Dimitrova gave a presentation on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at the HR Industry 2020 event that focused on the newest trends in HR. The participation was secured pro bono by Job Tiger.
The main focus of Mrs. Dimitrova’s presentation was on how CSR can be effectively applied while benefiting everyone involved— businesses and their employees, as well as the cause and society as a whole. By showcasing real-life examples, she pointed out different aspects of the topic which include both negative and positive tendencies.
“Quite often Corporate Social Responsibility is seen as yet another PR instrument, something trendy and therefore necessary. But in fact, the public image should be a byproduct, not an aim in and of itself.”
According to Alexandrina, the goal is for the company to positively change the environment in which it makes business and to make this happen in partnership with its employees:
“There have been many studies, showing that employees are more satisfied when they see that their company contributes to societal change. One such study shows that 88% of the so-called ‘millennials’ have higher work satisfaction if their job gives them the opportunity to contribute to positive change in the society they live in”, she added.
Among the other highlighted negative tendencies were the lack of focus of donations as well as the poor communication with people who stand behind the cause.
“Many companies get into the trap of wanting to support many and various causes or they tend to change the cause they contribute to on a yearly basis. However, this approach wastes and scatters the already limited resources and the overall impact that can be achieved becomes negligible. It is much more effective for companies and employees to focus their efforts on one cause. With time they will see how their support provides sustainability and can address a problem in the long run. Another problem we often see is that sometimes in their desire to help, donors decide on their own how to do so as well as what to donate without contacting us and asking about the actual needs of the children and youths we care for.”
According to the latest data from the Bulgarian Donor’s Forum from 2018, Bulgaria has seen a 4% decrease in corporate donations despite the good economic environment. Just 36% of all donations have come from companies. In addition, the country ranks 126th in the World Giving Index 2018 out of a total of 146 countries.
“There are many companies who have shared with us that they don’t want to brag about their donations because they are not doing it for the PR it brings. But actually good practices need to be shared so that their example can inspire other companies. This is the only way in which we can change this unpleasant statistic.”, Mrs. Dimitrova said. She shared the good examples of The Cedar Foundation’s long-term corporate partners all of whom have united the efforts of the company, its management and employees in service to the cause.
On February 6th The Cedar Foundation’s social therapists in Kyustendil welcomed their partners from Maria’s World Foundation. The aim of the visit was for the two organizations to exchange experience and for the visitors to become acquainted with Cedar’s good practices in the provision of quality care for children and youths with intellectual disabilities. Within a day the hosts proudly presented their everyday activities and responsibilities, their methods for developing the children and youths’ autonomy, the art therapy and leisure time activities.
Despite the snowy weather, the staff presented their herbal garden, greenhouse and zoo corner in the yard of the family-type home. Meanwhile, the children and youths joyfully and willingly demonstrated their work in the “Tell Me a Story” group and in the “Agile Hands” workshop, where they were preparing martenitsi from yarn and beads.
In the Center for Social Rehabilitation and Integration (CSRI), the youths from the “The Stage is Mine” club presented a humorous theater play on social behavior in a real situation- travelling by public transport, which was followed by unprompted singing and dancing. In addition, the cooking and arts clubs were presented, and the art therapists from both organizations discussed the different techniques they have developed, such as decoupage. They discussed the ways of implementing the techniques depending on the difficulty and the level of skills needed.
Another important aspect of the visit was the therapeutic character of all CSRI’s activities—the clubs and workshops, which Cedar offers. Meanwhile, our colleagues from Maria’s World shared their experience in fostering work habits and abilities, selecting suitable jobs that match the clients’ interests as well as the employers’ needs, and working towards the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities in the job market.
Cedar’s team will also visit Maria’s World’s Day Center in the future.
This Christmas we wanted to share with you what the most important things are when working with unprivileged people – attention, time and patience. We at Cedar believe that good happens when people find and choose the form of support that feels closest to them. And during the last few weeks you – our partners and friends – donated resources, time and effort and proved that while it can be a difficult mission, donating care is possible.
More than 300 pieces of cake were baked and sold, over 150 Christmas chocolate balls were decorated, and dozens of Christmas carols were sung to an audience of proud and excited parents just before the holidays. All of this in support of Cedar’s children and young people. Over 200 families stood in front of our photographers’ cameras for a charity photo shoot with Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus. A woman knitted a scarf until 4 AM to sell it at a charity bazaar in our support. The Cedar Foundation was the cause of charity brunches, lunches, sales, Christmas parties, and workshops. We were supported by companies and individuals, some of whom were with us for a first year, while others— for yet another.
Cedar’s team would like to thank VMWare, Westum, International House Sofia, Bulgaria Mall, Canon, Soho café, Ocado, OnProcess Technology, British School of Sofia, JC Decaux, Lufthansa Technik Sofia, City Mark Art Center, “Veselite Kambanki” Kindergarten, Ishy Bakery and Friends, the “Mati Bolgaria” Primary School in Kazanlak, Nu Boyana, Violeta Apostolova- Leti, Anton Draganov, Simeon Salov, and everyone whose thoughts were with us.
The human face of the social care, to which the state is a debtor
by Martina Bozukova, Mediapool, December 10, 2019
“The mistrust in NGO’s is largely due to people’s lack of knowledge about our work. Messages against non-governmental organizations, that work with our fears, are remembered very easily. But this is the fear of the unknown. Similarly, there were fears when the process of deinstitutionalization began, and people protested and signed up against the establishment of centers for children from the state institutions… So, maybe we need to get better at reaching out to the society,” says Alexandrina Dimitrova, executive director of the Cedar Foundation.
In the past 10 years, Cedar has been developing a successful model of social services for one of the most vulnerable groups – “Bulgaria’s Abandoned Children” – the children from the former state homes, most of whom were closed in the process of deinstitutionalization.
You can read the whole material here.
We see a huge difference in the young people we took out of the institutions. After proper physiotherapy, a 9-year-old boy started walking, while everyone was saying it was hopeless.
Interview with Alexandrina Dimitrova for Monitor
Mrs. Dimitrova, how long have you been involved in the social sphere? Is your foundation the first to independently close down a state institution? Tell us more about it.
The Cedar Foundation has been active for 14 years, and the process of deinstitutionalization has always been the focus of our work. We are the first to close down a specialized institution for children with disabilities. It was located in the remote village of Gorna Koznitsa (20 km from Kyustendil). More importantly, we provided care and a family type environment for all the children and young adults who used to live there.
Over the years, we have been able to participate in the closure of 11 more institutional homes, and we currently manage family-type centers as well as a rehabilitation center. We provide 24-hour care to nearly 70 children and also specialized support to young people with intellectual disabilities and their families.
How do your practices and efforts influence the children and their parents?
There is a huge difference in the development of the children and youth that we took out of the institutions. It is important to say that they are predominantly severely disabled children, many of whom have spent many years in an institutional setting.
How did this environment affect them? What are your observations?
They have serious mental traumas and distrust the people around them. Most of them have gone through several consecutive abandonments and their disabilities are both emotional and social.
Fortunately, in the new environment, thanks to the intensive care of a well-trained team, things are changing. We have many stories of children and youths, whom we were able to help.
One of them is about a 9-year-old child. We took him out of an institution for children with disabilities. He has cerebral palsy and several accompanying diagnoses. A non-verbal kid who always needed a companion – someone to hold his hand so he could walk.
In a year’s time, after physiotherapy and a lot of effort, we witnessed his first steps. At the age of 9, he started walking! Now, this kid welcomes everyone who visits the center- running towards the door, smiling from ear to ear. We are proud of him!
Do you manage to cover all the medical needs of the children?
We invest funds in additional staff and different types of therapies, which we raise through corporate and individual donors throughout the year. We do not have any medical staff to work directly at the centers. There are social therapists and social workers, and we rely on partnerships with GPs and hospitals in the cities where we operate. Whenever we have a problem, we get in touch with them.
Our foundation believes that caring for the children and young adults in need should not only depend on the social system but on each person and on society as a whole. We all need to share the responsibility.
Are donors open to help?
It was very difficult at first. They were not ready for this process themselves, and it took us time to build good relationships. Now, years later, I can say that things are much different, communication is easier, and their engagement with the problems is greater.
Healthcare professionals in hospitals respond whenever we need support, and I hope this happens anywhere in Bulgaria. We are aware that there is a lack of capacity and resources in both the education and health system. But ultimately, it is important to work together because we want these children to develop and be able to live fully, to be part of society.
Is it difficult to educate children with disabilities?
There are only 11 schools in Bulgaria that specialize in the care of children with autism. The children in your family homes have specific physical needs. Doesn’t this make the educational process even more challenging?
Yes, it is very difficult, especially for children with intellectual disabilities. They mainly attend auxiliary schools. We also have a child with an intellectual disability who is in a public kindergarten. We see that it is difficult for the specialists who work there, but they are too few.
Children without disabilities often face the problem of rejection. One survey showed that only 40% of parents approve of their kids studying with a child who lives at a center. We, at the Cedar Foundation, put a lot of resources into preparing our children for school. They are usually teenagers who have had to repeat classes, often fall behind their peers, or have to start their studies from 0. They also need serious support.
Does the number of abandoned children with disabilities continue to increase?
I can’t tell if it is increasing, but we are working with parents who tell us that their difficulties get bigger as the child grows older and becomes an adult. The reason for this is that there are not enough social services to support them. These young people remain isolated, without access to services and work. Through our Social Rehabilitation and Integration Centre, we try to support such youth. We already have 5 cases of disabled young adults who were able to find employment with our help.
We are not only supporting them but also their families. Our idea is that both parents and children are calm and confident to handle the challenges they are faced on their own.
Do you get support from the state and other institutions?
I think that Bulgaria is a good example in this aspect, as NGO’s work well together and have the support of the Ministry of Labor and Social Politics, which is one of the drivers of major reforms related to deinstitutionalization.
What we need to focus on is ensuring a good quality of care for the children and youth we took out of the institutions. Our appeal is to invest more in people – those who take care of them and are employed in the social sector. They are the ones who are with the children and need to be motivated and supported to be able to cope with the difficult situations they often come across because of the specifics of their job.
After the changes in the People with Disabilities Rights Protection Act, is it easier for young people to be employed, what are your observations?
I think it’s too early to say because the change in the law happened not long ago. What we are seeing with the young adults who began to work is that the mediator played the most important role. A mediator supports and helps disabled people to work.
We have youths who are employed in kindergartens, helping the support staff. We also take care of a young man who works part-time in a municipal laundry. I want to tell you that their confidence has grown. And I’m sure this is the right path to successful social inclusion.
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