Developing Community Care final group meeting

ESN draws the work of its working group on deinstitutionalisation to a close after its final meeting on 3-4 June held in Sofia, Bulgaria. ESN members met in Sofia to discuss the situation of children in children’s homes and special schools. Support for deinstitutionalisation of services for children is often unanimous. Numerous studies by UNICEF and leading universities leave no doubt that placing children in institutions, esp. at an early age (0-3) has a direct negative impact on their future well-being.

Led by George Bogdanov, director of the National Network for Children, the group visited a vocational boarding school (a former institution only rebranded as a community centre) and another genuine community-based service for autistic children in Sofia. The two visits together with presentations by group member Ralitsa Petrova and Mr. Bogdanov, who is also an independent expert for the European Commission, drove forward the discussion on fostering, adoption and family support. Special attention was paid to the question of Roma social exclusion and child abandonment in Bulgaria. ‘What we lack is a proper family support system. Our politicians like to blame the parents for all the troubles, but parents don’t get any help until it is already too late,’Bogdanov said.

On the second day, group members compared the notions of deinstitutionalisation and community care development in their national legislation and National Strategy Reports 2008-2010. The group noted that in most countries there seems to be a gap between existing legislation and the actual implementation on the ground. ‘We have fantastic laws but their execution is often flawed or significantly delayed,’ Aleksandra CaloševiÄ?explained.

Closing the discussion, ESN director John Halloran highlighted that the transition from residential to community care is a big change for all: policy-planners, budget authorities, social and health professionals and last but not least for users and their families. ‘We at ESN are committed to work alongside the local public social services to make this change as smooth as possible and to empower former residents to live their new lives, outside the walls of institutions, as normal as possible’.

The group has agreed to produce together with the High Level Advisory Committee a report, drawing recommendations from the group meetings to be launched later this year at a members’ special event in Brussels.