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Features SATURDAY, 29 January 2011

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Bulgarias Children of a Lesser God


Bistra Uzunova
Deutsche Welle

In Bulgaria about 7000 children are now living in special childcare institutions, to put more accurately, orphanages. Recently the state has taken a decision to close them down, which raises concern and a lot of questions. For a long time the issue of the childrens social care was a taboo and the institutions were huddled in remote villages, far away from public eye. Thanks to the inquisitive journalists and human rights activists the problems of these homes have surfaced and the everyday life of their inmates were exposed. The truths revealed were abhorring children were starving to death, molested or lived in total neglect. Recently, however, everything has gone to the other extreme. Bulgaria has received generous EU donations and subsidies and built up optimism about their absorption. This results in a frenzied activity called deinstutiopnalization at all costs. The State Child Protection Agency reports a steady trend towards the decrease in the number of social care homes inmates. So far, so good. The question is, though, where do these children go after they leave an institution? Whether someone provides an adequate environment for their development (material and otherwise,) are there any structures that would ensure psychological, pedagogic and medical help to them? Is the community prepared to help these kids, who for years were living in abnormal environment and know no other, overcome their specific problems?           
The impression that the inadequate preparation on these serious problems is substituted by an organizational turmoil, is quite obvious. Over 90% of the municipalities are ready to open the procedure on deinstitutionalization. And what are the indications of that readiness? It is just the municipalities that are aware of the problem. Presently Bulgaria is known for its unique fraudulence in the absorption of EU funds. And in that case no exceptional skills are needed. The EU gives the money (about 100 M euros) and in exchange Bulgaria is obliged to make a thorough analysis of the needs of children living in institutions, to ensure special know-how and experts and last but not least - social support.  
To take out the children from the state social care homes in a hurry without the new structures and the corresponding services being completed might deinstitutionalize the children easily, but could marginalize them once and for all.

(Abridged)
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