Miroslav Dolapchiev – “Caring is the most important thing!”
Miroslav Dolapchiev has been the chairman of the National Foster Care Association (NFCA) for 3 years. He believes that with the help of many foster parents and partners and with the support of non-governmental organizations a community can be created, through which foster parents could better look after and protect the best interest of abandoned children. He wishes foster care would become a much more transparent, clear and predictable process. This way foster parents would have a greater chance to improve themselves, and the children would receive the best possible care while living with their foster families.
How hard is it to make such a decision – to care for an unknown child?
Before we became foster parents we had experience with kids placed in the institutions. We knew that something more should be done than what we had been doing until that time. So it wasn’t any hard at all to make such a decision. We just understood that foster care is the best possible alternative a foster child could have outside their biological family.
How did your daughter react to the fact, that she would have a (foster) sister?
Ever since she was very little, she was always with us, when we visited orphanages and handed out food on the street. For her it was no surprise that we wanted to do something like that. In the beginning she was even euphoric about it: “Great, I’ll have a sister!” But it wasn’t that easy. Every child that has been in institutions comes with some deficits, which needed to be tackled and dealt with in a very short period of time. So at first it was a bit hard for our daughter to get used to the fact that there was another child at home, who took up part of our attention. And no matter how hard we try for everything to be equal there was always somewhat of a struggle. Now when she is gone, it is much more obvious how close they actually were and how much she misses her. These are facts that have helped our daughter realize we have done something very important in the life of someone else.
Which were the biggest difficulties you have faced as a foster parent?
Maybe because the child was very little the problems were little too. I am not sure, but somehow all the heavy bureaucracy is one of the things that bothers me the most as well as the permanent inspections and control, the whole process of a foster placement… But to see the needs of the child and to try to help them overcome the difficulties is maybe one of the biggest challenges. When your own daughter or son are close to you, you don’t pay that much attention, everything goes according to plan, everything is ok your child is developing. But when a child comes from somewhere else, from outside, from an institution, they have their ups and downs and you have to dig really deep in order to bring out the best of in them. Helping them realize that they have talents and are no different than others that they are loved as well… All these things are the great challenge. Sometimes you are just too tired and don’t want to see things as they are, or you think that you have done enough…
What are the chances of you becoming a foster parent again after the child you took care of was adopted?
We have never stopped thinking about this, but we might need some time, because we are volunteer foster parents. With the professional parents things are different. They have a different training and maybe the mindset to take care of more children more frequently. We had only thought of one child, at first we did not know how long she would stay… Most of all I would like for my wife to become ready for such a step again, because for us men it is easier, we are a bit rougher around the edges and a bit more thick-skinned, our emotions are not so deep. Whilst with women everything leaves a much more lasting mark. I really hope that we will take one more child as foster parents though.
Are you still in touch with the girl you fostered for 5 years?
I don’t know of a single foster parent who doesn’t want to be in touch with the child, who for one reason or another is no longer with them. The final word, however is usually with the adoptive family. Sometimes they think it is best for the child to break all bonds and connections with the past so they decide to pull it away from that environment. In our particular case, the adoptive family understands the need of the girl to continue being in touch with us, even if it is not that often. I think this helps the child too. This way she knows that she is not abandoned, rejected, she is not just moved from one place to another.
What are the steps that one should take in order to become a foster parent? Can this be achieved quickly or the procedure is slow and clumsy?
First they have express a desire. Even if they don’t know what to do, on the web page of the National Foster Care Association has all the contacts of people who are prepared to give advice at any time. In Bulgaria there are several non-governmental organizations where foster parents are trained and provided with any all the help they need, so that they can be approved and begin taking care of a child. The whole process takes around 6 months – on the one hand it is administrative, on the other foster parents need to be prepared. The training and education is crucial, it helps people to realise many things that are unclear in the beginning.
What does such training include?
You go through many different and important aspects of raising a foster child, so you can fully understand and realize where the child comes from, what they go through, what awaits them when they are placed in your family, how you can cope and whom and what you might need in order to do so. The whole process is like a training – theoretical and practical. There is a support group of foster parents and candidates and you can find a lot of useful information and answers to all the questions that might bother you.
What characteristics one should have in order to become a foster parent?
For me devotion is very important. The best thing for a child is to live in a family. When you are prepared to dedicate yourself entirely to the child you can create and learn all the other necessary skills, even if you don’t have any. But first and foremost you have to care, you must give a damn! One cannot simply be a foster parent and think of it as just a job. It is a job, but you shouldn’t do it without devotion and heart. You simply won’t be able to handle it, neither you, nor the child. Often the foster parents are taught not to form too much of a bond with the children, they think this is something bad. But attachment is extremely helpful for the child, as well as for the family.
Is the necessary distinction between foster care and adoption made?
Adoption, with rare exceptions is for life. Whereas the foster family provides temporarily care. For how long – nobody knows. Everything is very relative – sometimes the child lives with the foster family for 1 month, other children stay until their 18th birthday and even after that.
Do you think that the foster care is well known in Bulgaria, or is there still much left to learn?
Last month a survey which showed that the foster care is well known in Bulgaria was conducted. The problem lies deeper than us being prepared to do something. Because there is a huge difference between knowing what foster care is all about and actually going through the process of taking care of a child from a social institution.
Do foster parents in Bulgaria keep in touch with each other? Do they share their worries and problems?
Nowadays – yes. But in the past there was a very long period during which we had to encourage people to speak out with their names, about the problems they were having. For a very long time all that we would receive were anonymous letters with pleas for help. We at the association decided that anybody who wants our help must ask for it openly. A couple of years have passed since then and people are more united now. It is a fact that foster parents were afraid to let their foster children go to the camps we organised. Now they want to gather so much that they want to come to the camps with their children and there is no room for everyone. I think that in time foster care will transform, it will evolve into a big family, where everybody can share their problems freely. There is still a bit of fear now. The foster parents and the responsible institutions must become partners in caring for and raising the children.