Annual National Foster Care Meeting
More than 100 youth and foster families, foster parents, social workers and foster care specialists from the whole country participated in the Annual National Foster Care Meeting “Concerned about Care”, organised by the National Foster Care Association, with the financial support of Mtel. A meeting for youngsters from foster families took place in parallel with the adult programme. Kirilka Angelova, a specialist from the NFCA was the trainer of the young people.
“There has been an alarming turn of events in foster care in the last years – society calls us profit-seekers, some of the social workers also call us profit-seekers, other social workers and specialists behave in a rude, authoritarian manner and not in the spirit of partnership. Out of 2300 foster families in Bulgaria, almost 500 have no children placed with them. Foster care has become highly variable – each municipality has their own style of foster care. These are just some of the worrying trends we are observing. The time has come for us to find solutions together.” said the deputy chairman of the National Foster Care Association Svetlozar Rusev in his welcoming address.
The ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria Maya Manolova stated that, in her capacity as defender of citizens’ rights, she would observe closely whether the administrative organs uphold the main principle of care - the best interest of the child. “Child protection will be a main priority in my work as an advocate for children’s rights and interests.” she assured everyone at the meeting. Mrs. Manolova expressed her readiness to support and assist foster parents, as well as the organisations working within the sphere.
“Being given access to a family environment has changed and continues to change the lives of thousands of children in Bulgaria. It gives them the opportunity to not only fulfill their dreams, but to grow, study and develop. This is only possible thanks to people like you, who give children their love, emotional and moral support.“ the chairwoman of the State Agency for Child Protection – Eva Jecheva stated. According to her, the development of foster care is connected to the development of the child protection and the education systems as well as on the professional qualification of those working in social, healthcare and educational services.
Greetings from the president of the International Foster Care Organisation Volodymyr Kuzminsky, the vice-president Jean Anne Kennedyand Sami Isoniemi, a young man who grew up in the Finnish foster care system welcomed the participants. Hava Ryustem, one of the first foster children to leave the system in Bulgaria also greeted the participants in the meeting with a video.
During the first day of the conference, Elka Nalbantova, a member of the Board of the National Foster Care Association and director of For Our Children Foundation presented the point of view of the participants in the foster care system, regarding the quality of the service. According to her, foster care can be improved in a few ways. A high quality of management of the process is necessary as is the provision of adequate financing. Good decisions in accordance with child protection measures and a rigorous and high-quality foster family selection process, support of said families as well as quality parenting were also among the factors mentioned by Mrs. Nalbantova.
The main providers of the foster care service also presented their good practices and experience. Among them were the Equilibrium Association, foundation Hope and Homes for Children and the Co-participation Association. The foster mother Maria Blagoeva spoke about working with diverse foster children and the perception of racial differences. Family therapist Marieta Dyulgerova led a discussion with the foster families about the problems in their dialogue with social workers and other participants in foster care provision. She made clear that a dialogue is possible as long as the parties are prepared to mitigate their difference of opinion in the interest of the children.
During the second day, specialists engaged in the care and support of children and families had the floor. In a few interactive educational sessions specialists presented models for working with abused children, caring for children with disabilities and taught participants how the positive sides of the difficult experiences of the children can be used in social work. The psychologists of the National Foster Care Association – Vladimir Ivanov and Kremena Simeonova spoke about the handling of emotional difficulties upon separation with foster children.
During the third day of the Annual National Foster Care Meeting models for the development of specific skills of children through play were presented. Ivanka Shalapatova, executive director of For Our Children Foundation, and long-term vice president of the International Foster Care Organisation made a review of the development of foster care in Europe. She spoke about the practices in applying foster care in leading countries, as well as about the policies for the care of children at risk. The meeting ended with a discussion about the current problems in foster care in Bulgaria, as well as their possible solutions.