At the end of August, another 8 Bulgarian municipalities with specialized institutions for children with disabilities deprived of parenatal care signed contracts for EU funding with the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works. These are the municipalities of Kazanlak, Nova Zagora, Novi Pazar, Pleven, Plovdiv, Parvomay, Samokov and Stara Zagora. The contracts are under the Regional Development OP of the EU for the period 2007-2014 and are aimed at taking children out of social institutions. They total 19.5 million leva. Thus, the EU funds for Bulgaria under this operational program are already fully contracted. The contracts signed so far with 62 municipalities total 103.5 million euro. These funds will be spent on the construction of family-type housing, playgrounds and additional infrastructure for children at risk and have a 24-month implementation period. So the goal is to have no orphans in the homes for disabled children in Bulgaria by 2012.
With the recent signing of contracts under this operational program, Bulgaria fully covers the map of residential services for children with mental and physical disabilities aged above 3, said the program’s manager Denitsa Nikolova at the ceremony in the Ministry of Regional Development.
“For us this is a huge accomplishment, because the coordination of institutions has shown that we have a clear vision of what we want to achieve through joint efforts. We want to provide adequate funding to satisfy the desires and needs of children to live in better conditions. The funding will be used to build a total of 133 family-type centers and 27 sheltered homes. Some of them will be built from scratch, while others already exist, but will undergo reconstruction and renovation. Most municipalities intend to build entirely new types of homes approved by the State Agency for Child Protection in terms of their functionality, furniture and accessible environment. So all projects are consistent with the requirements of living conditions for children at risk”.
Denitsa Nikolova said that the Regional Development Ministry has provided money for additional and adequate equipment, including appropriate playgrounds in external courtyards. Separately, the Ministry of Healthcare has allocated 10 million leva for reconstruction of homes for medical and social care for children aged below 3 as well as for construction of 9 facilities to help young mothers in difficult financial situation and prevent the abandonment of infants.
According to the chairman of the State Agency for Child Protection, Mr. Kalin Kamenov, the signing of these last contracts under this operational program is a great step towards the equal social status of children at risk in Bulgaria:
“This reform will be very effective. Thanks to these new homes, children and adolescents with disabilities in the big cities will be able to attend school and receive health and social services. This is vital for their successful integration in society where they will be able to interact with their peers with no disabilities. I have seen such examples in Belgium. I'm sure that after several years these children will be able to really integrate in society: to sell goods in shops, to work in factories and generally to make their own living. The key difference of these small family-type houses that are to be built in these 62 communities is that children and young people with disabilities will stay there only for the night and not all day long as it is currently done. These children will now attend school, they will receive health and social services outside the protected home and will be able to acquire key skills and competencies in order to find work to support themselves later”.
Kamenov said that the project of the Ministry of Regional Development and the project of the State Agency for Child Protection will provide funding for the training and payment of professionals who will work in this new sphere of services.
The municipal mayors will be the key figures in building these new family-type housing for children at risk. One of the Bulgarian municipalities that have contracted EU funds for this purpose is the municipality of Stara Zagora, which intends to build a total of 7 homes, says its Mayor Zhivko Todorov:
“This project was very important for us in order to create good conditions for children at risk so that they can integrate into society. Also, society has to learn to accept children with disabilities. During the first discussion of the project in the municipal council, a petition was submitted by the residents in the area where we intend to build one of these protected houses. They indicated in the petition that they disliked the idea of building such homes there. We couldn’t say that is a tolerant attitude. So people must learn to be tolerant, to accept and help such children to integrate into society. I'm glad that now such a tolerant attitude is being taught and the situation is changing”, says the Mayor of Stara Zagora Zhivko Todorov.
English version: Rossitsa Petcova