The Bulgarian country profile provides a brief overview of the key measures undertaken in the field of child well-being during the reporting period. It covers some of the main aspects of the policy to support children and families – supporting parents’ participation in the labour market; providing quality services for families or family environments; investing in early childhood development; as well as promoting children’s participation in decision making that affects their lives.. Particular emphasis is placed on applying a comprehensive and integrated approach to supporting children and families. The link between the main priorities and challenges in this field is also taken into account.
The commitment to reducing child poverty cannot be considered separately or in isolation from all relevant policy areas. Such an approach is reflected in the National Strategy for Reducing Poverty and Promoting Social Inclusion 2020 and the Action Plan for its implementation which was adopted by the Council of Ministers (CM) in August 2015. Reduction of child poverty is one of the main priorities.
Measures under the Employment Promotion Act, aimed at supporting parents’ participation in the labour market, continued to be implemented in the reporting period. Employers’ costs for wages and social contributions are financed by the state budget for each job created and occupied by:
Through these measures, 171 parents and/or mothers gained employment in 2014, as well as 156 for the first half of 2015.
According to Eurostat data, in 2014 the employment rate for women aged 15-64 in Bulgaria was 58.2%, only slightly beneath the EU-28 average of 59.6%.
In October 2015, the National Assembly adopted the entirely new Pre-school and School Education Act. One of the objectives is to promote inclusive education. The Act introduces the application of standards for early childhood development in crèche groups in kindergartens. Two procedures aimed at supporting disadvantaged children’s socialisation were launched under OP “Science and Education for Smart Growth”. The procedures are “Support for pre-school education of disadvantaged children” and “Educational integration of students from ethnic minorities and/or asylum or international protection”. A serious focus is put on implementation of measures to prevent school dropout, as well as on development and testing of an early warning system
Since 2010 a Social Inclusion Project (SIP) has been implemented and funded by a loan from the World Bank. Under this Project, new types of services for children and families have been established in 66 municipalities in Bulgaria. They are aimed at early childhood development, risk prevention in early childhood, better coverage and improvement of the readiness of children for inclusion in the educational system. Since the launch of the project, the services have been provided to over 20 000 children and their parents. A total of 1’867 new places in nurseries and kindergartens have been opened in 31 municipalities. In order to ensure sustainable delivery of the services established under SIP, “Early Childhood Development Services" operation under the OP “Human Resources Development” 2014-2020 has been launched in December 2015.
The new Pre-school and School Education Act provides for the development of a State Educational Standard for pre-school education to ensure that students will acquire a set of competencies. A standard for inclusive education is also planned to be developed.
Ensuring equal access to education for minor or juvenile foreign citizens seeking or granted international protection in the Republic of Bulgaria is an issue on the agenda due to the serious challenges the country is facing in providing access to education for such a large group of children from different countries. In this context, the amendments made to the Asylum and Refugees Act in 2015 regulated the admission of children in the Bulgarian educational system under European laws.
As a result of the implementation of the National Programme for Improving Maternal and Child Health, a Universal Newborn Hearing Screening was introduced with the aim of early hearing detection and intervention for newborns. Maternal and Child Health Centres were established in all districts under the Programme. These centres will carry out complex medical monitoring of children, as well as pregnant women at increased medical risk, or having chronic diseases and disabilities. The amendments made to the Medical-Treatment Facilities Act regulated a new type of medical treatment facility – the complex services centre for children with disabilities and chronic diseases. In addition, amendments to the Health Act were adopted by the National Assembly in September 2015. They regulated the integrated health and social services.
Reproductive and Child Health Projects have been implemented under the BG07 Programme "Public Health Initiatives" with the contribution of the Norwegian Financial Mechanism. In implementing the Action Plan to the Health Strategy for Disadvantaged Persons belonging to Ethnic Minorities 2005-2015, prevention activities among the Roma population have been also carried out by using three mobile paediatric cabinets and four primary health care cabinets, which are located in different regions of the country.
Provision of financial support is an important tool for supporting children and families. Funds amounting to over half a billion BGN are provided from the 2015 state budget for payment of family benefits (an increase by approximately 6.16 million EUR compared to 2014).
In order to improve the legal framework in the field of child and family policy, an Act Amending and Supplementing the Family Allowances Act was adopted by the National Assembly in July 2015. The amendments are aimed at promoting responsible parenthood and greater social justice.
Deinstitutionalisation of child care is currently in a crucial phase. As a result of child care reform over the last years, there has been a steady rise in the number of the community-based social services for children. As of November 2015, their number is 464, while the number of the specialized institutions is 65. In the context of the child care reform, the Action Plan for the implementation of the National Strategy “Vision for deinstitutionalization of children in the Republic of Bulgaria” is currently being updated. It will be focused on the development of supporting services, prevention of separation of children from their families and risk prevention.
Students are provided with the opportunity to develop interests and skills through training and participation in various forms of extracurricular activities. An emphasis is placed on promoting children’s participation in sport, recreation and cultural activities: inter-school reviews, National Olympiads, regional, national and international competitions.
The Children's Council at the State Agency for Child Protection is the main mechanism supporting children’s collective participation in policy making. It includes representatives from all administrative districts of the country. There are also five quota places for vulnerable children. In 2015 the Council has initiated several studies on children’s views on specific issues, such as the Preschool and School Education Act. In addition, a survey to collect children’s views about the draft of the new Council of Europe Strategy for the Rights of the Child was circulated upon Council’s initiative.
The share of children (under 18) at risk of poverty in Bulgaria continues to be significantly higher than the average rate (45.2%, compared to the EU-38 average of 27.7%). In order to address this challenge it is necessary to apply an integrated approach and to implement inter-sectorial measures.
Providing protection to the increasing number of unaccompanied minors entering Bulgaria should take into consideration the specific characteristics of this target group - language barrier, unknown status, providing medical care and services, education and training in Bulgarian language. Strengthening the professional and administrative capacity to identify victims of trafficking among asylum seekers and persons seeking international protection and their referral to rehabilitation programs and supporting services is another challenge to the state institutions which need to better interact and coordinate.
The information in the country profile was last updated in February 2016.
The recent changes to the legislation in the field of child and family policy represent a new philosophy of provision of family benefits. The objective is to improve the current system and to ensure equal treatment of children in the family. Therefore, one of the most significant changes to the Families Allowances Act is related to the determination of the total amount of monthly benefit for the family, based on the number of children rather than their birth order. The amendments provide equality for all types of families – families of married parents, families of unmarried parents and one-parent families. It should be also noted that the improvement of the regulatory framework in this field puts strong emphasis on the interaction between different systems - social, health and education.
Development of integrated services for early childhood development and innovative cross-sectoral services for children and families is another key priority in the field of child well-being. The main innovative feature of the services is that they are integrated in terms of joint work between different specialists and in terms of the nature of the services - social, health, educational. Furthermore, their implementation will contribute to meeting the special needs of children, promoting their social inclusion and providing support to their families.