The state has received an average (3) mark for foster care policy, care of relatives and adoption.
In search of the necessary quality foster care, specific measures have been taken, but there is still no clearly defined long-term goal. There is a lack of a comprehensive vision for the development of the service in the country, and the key problems in the social service-foster care have remained unaddressed and unresolved. Foster care is one of the main measures for child protection, the development of which contributes to the process of deinstitutionalization of childcare in Bulgaria and is part of the transition - from institutional care to community care. In essence, the purpose of foster care is to provide family care for children for a short period of time in which they are separated from their families for various reasons. For the foster care protection measure to be able to function effectively, specialized social services are needed in the community to monitor the process from start to finish and to support foster families in fulfilling their mission.
For the period from 01.01.2019 to 30.09.2019 there are 2 258 foster families operating on the territory of the country (including 2 245 professional and 13 voluntary ones). A total of 2 117 children are accommodated in them. An analysis of the ASA under the project "Accept me 2015" indicates that for the cited period the number of deleted foster families exceeds the number of the newly approved ones, which is an extremely worrying indicator. Foster families are declining, but this is not due to a reduced need for this type of social service. Many children continue to be abandoned or to live outside the family environment, which include institutional or residential care.
Foster care in Bulgaria continues to be supported mainly by project activities with funds from the European Union and this has not changed in the past 2019. From 01.12.2015 the project "Accept me 2015" started under OPHRD (Operational Programme “Human Resources Development”) 2014-2020. This project complements and should build on project "Accept me” under OPHRD 2007-2013, Project “I have a family, too”.
The fact that from the very beginning until now the social service "foster care" being in the form of project activity, leads to unsustainability and instability, a decrease in the motivation of employees working in foster care teams and the active foster parents themselves. However, it is important to emphasize that through projects the social service "foster care" is provided as an overall social service. Its fragmentation of individual activities would have a detrimental effect on it, which is why it is necessary after the end of the project "Accept me 2015" to provide an opportunity to continue this type of provision through services created under the new Law on Social Services. Its adoption in March 2019 by the National Assembly has created the necessary prerequisites for the full provision of the service, but since the law has not yet entered into force and its sub-normative framework is not available, it cannot be said whether and to what extent these well-established prerequisites will be utilized in practice.
For another year, no funds have been invested in a national information campaign for foster care in a positive way - the information is by piece, sporadic and without a clear vision of the nature of the service. The continuing abdication of the governing body from the development of this vital social service reinforces instead of lowering the strongly negative media content on the topic. Foster parents feel abandoned and are very demotivated by the lack of support for the work and dedication they give every day to the children placed in their families. It is essential for the Bulgarian reality to meet the specific needs of several different groups of children, incl. children with disabilities, children in conflict with the law, unaccompanied children, teenagers and other vulnerable groups, for whom accommodation is generally more complex.
There are no measures to encourage and support these placements and they continue to be a very small part of the total number of placed children. It should be noted that there are still positive elements during the period. These are, on the one hand, the continuing upgrading training formats for foster families, support groups and individual supervision (twice a year). Another positive sign is that NGOs and networks (including NFCA and NNCs) continue to be part of the process - both as providers and as part of the ECC - despite attempts to tarnish the role of NGOs in the delivery of social services that we observe during the year. The work on preparation of a single financial standard of the service has started, which should ensure its provision after the end of the project financing.
Traditionally, the commitment to foster care is accompanied by the development of the protection measure "accommodation with acquaintances and relatives". A total of 4,637 children are accommodated with relatives as of September 30, 2019. Regardless of the signals for work in the direction of including the protection measure "accommodation with acquaintances and relatives" in the scope of the social service "foster care" in 2019, no progress has been made. In their practice, service providers have come across cases of children left by their parents to close people in order to work abroad, without being accommodated with acquaintances and relatives as per 30.09.2019.
The work on amendments to the Family Code, which started in 2016, remained without development for another year. There are still no administrative procedures to adequately regulate the collection and storage of the most detailed information about biological parents, siblings. There is no legal framework and regulation for access to the history of biological relationships to protect the interests of all three parties in the adoption process, in particular the child's right to information about his or her biological origin. It is important to note that there is a lack of a comprehensive state policy in support of adoption, which would acquaint the society with the benefits and opportunities it provides, as well as with the objective difficulties it hides.
Despite the improved content of the website of the Social Assistance Agency (SAA), the information received by prospective adoptive parents who are Bulgarian citizens and live in the country is outdated and scarce in terms of content compared to the information provided to applicants under the international procedure. In violation of the requirements of the Family Code, the SAA has not yet established a National Electronic Certified System for children who can be adopted under the conditions of full adoption (Article 83, paragraph 1) and a National Register of adopters for full adoption (Article 85). There is a lack of in-depth qualitative and quantitative analysis, as well as justification of the reasons for the decrease in the number of children entered in the Adoption Register, as well as the declining number of adoptions with each passing year, as well as the tendency to decrease with each passing year the number of adoptions with a relatively equal number of children raised outside the family environment and the relatively equal number of prospective adoptive parents. We hope that the guidelines developed in 2018 for preparing the child for national or international adoption are applied in practice. The initiative was implemented by the State Agency for Child Protection and involved stakeholders, but there is no monitoring to track its actual implementation, effectiveness and efficiency. The feedback from the upgraded training program for prospective adoptive parents, developed in 2018 together with non-governmental organizations working on the topic of adoption and approved by an order of the Minister of Labor and Social Policy, is positive.
It is important to note, however, that the question of the actual evaluation of the candidates remains open, which is performed by the DCP employees, who have a constant turnover, overload and often - focus on the formal part of the work. It is not yet known for the social workers from the departments that adequate training has been provided and / or provided for assessing the motivation of the adoptive parents, as well as supervision in support of their daily work "in the field". There is still a lack of mandatory support services for a child and an adoptive parent in the post-adoption period. Monitoring by child protection departments is formal, often without real support and sensitivity to the past of children and adoptive parents and their individual traumas.
The newly formed families are not being worked with preventively, but only after a stated problem. The accumulated information is not processed and analyzed in order to identify indicators, derive good practices and changes in practice and legislation. There is still no support in choosing the right approach so that there is no secret for adoption, or if it already exists - for sparingly revealing the secret of adoption so that the child does not feel cheated and betrayed. Training needs to be focused on this direction not only on prospective adopters, within their training, but also on social workers, social service providers and those working in the education system.
Remaining open is the issue of introducing targeted maternity and paternity leave (15 days) for the adoption of children over 5 years of age, as well as the right to a one-time adoption allowance in the amount equivalent to the order of the child in the family, and not of the mechanism by which it became part of it. Although positive, the amendments to the Labor Code still place both adopted children and their adoptive parents in a discriminatory division by age and origin. The opinion was supported by specialists, the Ombudsman of the Republic and a decision of the Commission for Protection against Discrimination (CPD №239 of 11.07.2018). The latter was appealed by the MLSP, which suggests underestimation or rejection of the problem. It is important to note that the targeted adoption leave is in order to build quality relationships in the newly formed family, adaptation of the child in the new environment and daily intensive participation of parents in this extremely important period. At the Voice of the Adopted Child Forum held in September 2019, which was attended by representatives of state institutions and the non-governmental sector working on the topic of adoption, the following problematic areas in the social system regarding adoption were also identified:
- There is an alarming trend of increasing the number of terminated adoptions and removal of adopted children from the adoptive families and their placement in residential care. It is necessary to keep statistics on adopted children who are placed in residential care, as well as an analysis of the reasons leading to the re-abandonment of children. There is also a discrepancy between the terminated adoptions and the statistics kept by the ASA.
- There is no support for prospective adopters in the period from their entry in the registers to adoption. The change in the attitudes and motivation of the future parents, which is the basis of a successful adoption, is not studied. Efforts are needed to raise public awareness and campaign for positive attitudes towards adoption, including through more transparent procedures.
- Improving the procedure for researching the prospective adoptive parents - increasing its term, more meetings with a social worker and a psychologist for a more in-depth study of the attitudes and motivation of the candidates; refining the criteria for entering the prospective adoptive parents in the registers; increasing the training of the prospective adoptive parents and its distribution in the different stages (before entry in the registers, after entry and until the adoption, upgrading training or support in the post-adoption period).