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Bulgaria - Promoting children’s well-being – key policies and measures

The text 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 these policy to support children and families – supporting parents’ participation in the labour market; providing quality services in family or close to family environment; investing in early childhood care; promoting children’s participation in decision making that affect their lives, etc. Particular emphasis was placed on the provision of complex support to children and families. The link between the main priorities and challenges in this field is also taken into account.

Access to adequate resources

Support parents’ participation in the labour market

Measures under Employment Promotion Act aimed at supporting parents’ participation in labour market continued to be implemented in 2013. Employers’ costs for wages and social contributions are financed by the state budget for each job created and filled by:
• unemployed single parents and/or mothers with children less than 3 years of age;
• unemployed mothers (adopters) with children between 3 and 5 years of age.

Under these two measures, 690 parents and/or mothers were involved in employment in 2013. For the first half of 2014 this number reached 162.

According to data from EU-SILC the employment rate for women aged 15 to 64 in 2012 is 56.3% compared to the EU-28 average of 58.5%.

Access to affordable quality services

Reduce inequality at a young age by investing in early childhood education and care

Investment in early childhood education and care is one of the key priorities of the government. Bulgaria's efforts to develop and implement integrated policies for early childhood development for children from 0 to 7 years are supported by the Social Inclusion Project launched in 2010. Through its implementation the municipalities will start providing a new type integrated services for children and families. Since the project's launch a total of 1868 new places in nurseries and kindergartens have been opened in 29 municipalities. 19 municipalities have already put into operation the crèche and garden groups under the Project - the service "Integration of children in kindergartens and pre-school groups/classes” has been launched. During the summer holiday of 2014 30 municipalities have provided the service “Additional pedagogical support for equal start at school". Till the end of 2014 all services under the municipalities’ projects will be operational.

Improve education systems’ impact on equal opportunities

The Ministry of Education and Science is beneficiary of a project “Inclusive Education” under OP HRD, co-financed by ESF. It is aimed at changing attitudes towards inclusive education, development of school culture based on tolerance for diversity, supporting children with special educational needs (SEN). Currently additional educational support is being provided to children and students with SEN who are included within mainstream education.

A National Strategy on the Integration of Beneficiaries of International Protection in the Republic of Bulgaria (2014-2020) was adopted by the Council of Ministers (CM) on July 2014. The Action Plan for its implementation includes measures to ensure equal access to quality education for children and students seeking or enjoying international protection, with a focus on study of Bulgarian language and general subjects.

Improve the responsiveness of health systems to address the needs of disadvantaged children

A National Programme for improving maternal and child health was adopted by CM on July 2014. It envisages establishment of Centers for integrated health-counselling services – maternal and child health in addition to the hospitals in the Bulgarian districts. In 2014 a Center for Maternal and Child Health opened in Shumen as part of a joint pilot project of Ministry of Health and UNICEF. It provides care to pregnant women, newborn babies and children up to 3 years at risk. In addition, funds are allocated each year for conducting free screening in settlements with predominantly Roma population, using mobile cabinets. In 2013 2 706 prophylactic examinations of Roma children are carried out with mobile pediatric cabinets. Approximately 16% of them are diagnosed with disease.

Enhance family support and the quality of alternative care settings

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 state budget for 2014 for payment of family benefits.

A number of measures to support children and families were undertaken during the reporting period – the amounts of different payments were increased (the compensation for maternity leave for raising a child between the ages 1 and 2, the amount of the monthly allowance for permanently disabled children below 18 years of age, the one-time target benefit for schoolchildren enrolled in the first grade of state or municipal schools during the school year 2013/2014, the monthly benefit for a child until graduation from high school –for second child in the family). According to data from EU-SILC the social protection benefits (family/children function) as a percentage of GDP in 2011 are 1.9% compared to the EU-28 average of 2.2%.

The implementation of the process of deinstitutionalization of child-care continues and there are concrete results from the implementation of the five projects set out in the Action Plan for implementation of the National Strategy “Vision for the Deinstitutionalization of Children in the Republic of Bulgaria” regarding the development of alternative services, foster care development, strengthening the administrative capacity, etc.

As a result of deinstitutionalization there is a constant increase in the number of the community-based social services for children (389 as of 31.07.14) and at the same time decrease in the number of specialized institutions (72 as of 31.07.14).

Children’s right to participate

Put in place mechanisms that promote children’s participation in decision making that affects their lives

The State Agency for Child Protection (SACP) has piloted a four-level mechanism for child participation in 3 regions and 8 municipalities since 2012. Currently 17 school and 8 municipal child councils have been established as well as one regional council. The Rules of Procedures of the National Child Council were amended in reference with the incorporation of the child participation mechanism. The mechanism itself gives an opportunity to a wide range of children to be involved in the decision-making processes and its evaluation will be ready by the end of 2014.

Outlook

One of the main challenges identified in the Recommendation is child poverty. In order to address this challenge it is necessary to implement an integrated intersectoral approach. Suggested ways forward to combat child poverty include: supporting parents’ participation in the labour market; providing accessible and quality care services; investing in early childhood education and care and supporting child participation in the decision making process, etc. Another prerequisite for addressing child poverty is to improve the coordination and interaction between different systems (educational, social, health, etc.).

The information in the country profile was last updated in February 2014.

The development of integrated services for early childhood development and of innovative cross-sectoral services for children and families is one of the key priorities of the implemented policies in the field of child well-being. Such measures are set out in the National Strategy for Reducing Poverty and Promoting Social Inclusion 2020 and the National Development Programme Bulgaria 2020, Priority 2 “Reducing Poverty and Promoting Social Inclusion”.  The main innovative characteristic of the services is that they will be 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.