Member in Focus: Improving quality education and care for children requires action on many fronts

ISSA member For Our Children Foundation is leading efforts to create a national early childhood strategy in Bulgaria. The foundation has been active in Bulgaria for 25 years now, which makes it one of the oldest civil society organizations. They are powered by nearly 70 staff members who work in different fields: from research to advocacy, from fundraising to service provision. Today we interview Vania Kaneva, Head of Projects and Advocacy at For Our Children Foundation, Bulgaria. Vania is leading a team of 10 people, many of whom are deployed in the field.

Vania what is the situation right now for young children in Bulgaria?

Preliminary results of research we are conducting, confirm the trend of the last few years.  There are large inequalities among different groups and regions. For instance the quality of education among Roma children is extremely low, also there is widespread segregation and a lower rate of participation in early childhood education. Bulgaria is well behind on achieving the EU’s Barcelona targets for inclusion in early education: only 86% of children aged 4 to the age of starting primary school are in early education, with the target being 95%. In the lower age group (0-3) the situation is even worse: less than 10% of children attend any form of early education and care, with the target being 33%.

We are glad that less and less children are being institutionalized with the nation-wide deinstitutionalisation process having achieved significant results, but child abandonment remains a problem and last year alone 689 children aged 0-3 have passed through institutions for young children, which are proved to be extremely detrimental to their health and wellbeing.

How is For Our Children Foundation planning to intervene?

The “Care in the Early Age” project, whose research I was mentioning, is an example. It’s a three-year project and has three main components: field work, research and advocacy. 

The field work aims at introducing best practices in care and social settings involving not only children but also parents and professionals. A typical scenario is: we send a team of experts in a hospital or social care center, where intervention for children is required. We start by studying the situation and find tailored solutions to specific problems. For example by supporting the development of children who are unable to attend school. At the same time, psychological support to their parents is offered and the hospital or care center’s staff receives training, for example on how to communicate with children and families.

The research part studies the educational system, the health care and the social care system of children from zero to seven years old in Bulgaria. We are trying to find out whether the systems are working well together and whether they are supporting parents and children in an appropriate way. The results of the research will be ready this autumn and they will inform the advocacy we are doing as part of the project. 

For Our Children Foundation, together with other organizations (such as UNICEF, the National Network for Children, Trust for Social Achievement and others), is also advocating for a national strategy on early childhood. The strategy will be developed with the support of a national consultative body, which will include representatives of all key stakeholders – national and local government agencies, civil society, academia, media and others. We hope that in 2018, when Bulgaria will hold the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, our government will be ready to adopt the strategy and move forward with the key reforms that are needed in the sector.

What work within ISSA is interesting to you?

We want to learn more about what works in the field of Early Childhood Education and Care services in other countries. We see there is valuable knowledge on best practices in the network. Thanks to ISSA’s useful resources and exchange among members we hope to build our capacity on research and advocacy. We also look forward to be part of international projects in the future. 

Any exciting news or projects coming up in the near future?

We are working at the creation of a center for early childhood development. It will be a place offering multiple services in the field of health and social education for children. We are hoping to open it at the beginning of 2018 and we would like for this to become a hub of both service provision and expertise that can be useful to both us and other organisations across the country.

About For Our Children Foundation

Founded 25 years ago, at the beginning it was active in the field of deinstitutionalization and child protection only – they were the first to introduce foster care in Bulgaria in 1999. Today they have broadened their scope, they aim at improving quality of services and early childhood development for all children aged 0-7 yrs.

Find out more here.