The following are the general conclusions of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee report on the state of children placement institutions in Bulgaria. The full 107-page report can be found here and on the BHC's website, http://www.bghelsinki.org.
The situational analysis of the current conditions in the children’s institutions and the evaluation of the measures taken by the government answered some fundamental questions:
What is the status of the process of deinstitutionalization and decentralization in the children’s specialized institutions under the provisions of the Child Protection Act?
Why the inclusive education is not yet an alternative to the rehabilitation schools? What should be done with the rehabilitation schools and what changes are necessary to the legislation governing the education of children with special education needs?
The juvenile delinquents – what is the meaning of placing them at SBS and CBS?
In search of the answers to all those questions BHC found:
● The homes for children and especially the institutions for mentally retarded children have not been turned into a major engine of the reform of the institutional care. For now the functional development of two-thirds of HMRCJ remains unchanged to a considerable degree. The staff is interested in preserving, and even increasing the number of the inmates, because the salaries of the HMRCJ staff still depend on the number of the institutionalized children.
● The children from HMRCJ remain an isolated group of outsiders without any perspectives for social and educational inclusion. The mechanism of social exclusion for the children from institutions is still in effect. The absence of a developed alternative care system, to which children from risk families have access, and, naturally, the economic and social transition of the country, are the basic factors for the ongoing placement of children in institutions. No systematic change has been established which would lead in practice to a considerable sustainable decrease in the number of the inmates in the institutions and to the effective development of the alternative system of community-based services.
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● The major problem of the institutionalization of children in Bulgaria is the duration of their stay. The data about 19 of the 20 HMRCJ/HMRJ visited shows that 81.1% of the inmates placed there have been staying at the institutions for more than 3 years. Despite the legislative changes and the identified measures for deinstitutionalization the doors of HMRCJ remain open. While the way out of there usually leads to the next institution, rather than to the community.
● Institutionalization away from the public’s eye remains the basic form of care for severely disabled children neglected by their parents. 17 out of 20 HMRCJ and HMRJ visited are still located in small villages in economically depressed regions. The practice of institutionalization in HMRCJ based on social indicators has not been interrupted. The data about the family status shows that the majority of the children are neglected, children to single parents, children to large families, children of unemployed. In 7 HMRCJ/HMRJ BHC established that children with intact intellect were institutionalized – Gorski Senovets, Mihaltsi, Vidrare, Kosharitsa, Medven, Berkovitsa, Strazha. After a report filed by BHC and prompt reaction on the part of Burgas SARD and Burgas RIE two of the inmates in HMRCJ – Kosharitsa were relocated to HCDPC and included in the inclusive education curriculum at the mainstream school. The opportunities for social and educational inclusion, however, remain limited despite the trend of “opening up” the children’s home in the last years.
● For a real, though limited, deinstitutionalization, a result of the efforts of the government, could be considered mainly HCDPC. In 2006 MES closed down 15 homes of that type. The percentage of the reintegrated children from HCDPC is the highest – mainly in their biological families. In its research in 2006 BHC registered maintenance of the status quo in HMSCC. Although the rate of adoption of children from HMSCC is the highest, the doors of this type of institution remain widely open, the number of the inmates there remains unchanged. There have been no HMSCC closed down so far – there are 32 of them. For the period 2003 to 2006 MLSP in practice closed down 3 social all-year homes for mentally retarded children – the ones in Fakia, Dzhurkovo and Dobromirtsi. The homes reported as closed down – HMRCJ – Pazardzhik, HMRJ – Tri Kladentsi and HMRCJ – Berkovitsa, have only changed their “labels” – from homes for children, they have been transformed to one day-care home and two homes for juveniles. In practice, this is simulation of deinstitutionalization. The home in Pazardzhik has been announced as day-care center – and it has been functioning as such since its establishment. The homes in Tri Kladentsi and in Berkovitsa renamed from homes for children into homes for juveniles, where transformational changes have been registered (functional restructuring, overall refurbishment and new furniture of the rooms in HMRJ – Tri Kladentsi; building of a protected home with a capacity of accommodating 8 people and of a center of a family type with a capacity of 15 children in HMRC – Berkovitsa), remain institutions – the majority of the children that grew up in those homes are still living there. Adoption, reintegration in the biological families and in the families of relatives and friends, and the foster families in particular are not yet practical alternative to the HMRCJ. Closing down of any of those homes for mentally retarded children would not bring about these forms of deinstitutionalization. The children from those specialized institutions of detention do not leave the institutionalized system – they are just moved to other homes.
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● There is not any good coordination between the three responsible ministries and the two agencies for the deinstitutionalization and decentralization of the children’s institutions under the provisions of the Child Protection Act – MLSP, MES, MH, SACP and SAA. The issue of the future status of the children’s institutions has not yet been resolved. So far only HMRCJ have been decentralized, for all HCDPC only principle consent has been reached with MES, while according to MH only 6 out of 32 currently existing HMSCC should be decentralized.
● The transformation in the children’s institutions does not progress at the necessary fast pace. Two-thirds of the 20 HMRCJ/HMRC visited by BHC, for example, are in a “dormant” state. The activities regarding restructuring of these specialized institutions are usually limited to carrying out superficial renovation works and refurnishing the homes with the assistance of donors. No current preliminary prospecting has been conducted for the necessary reconstructions. The existing training needs assessment for the staff and the needs for new appointments remain on paper only. The necessity of individualization of the child care model in the institutions has not been fully digested.
● The educational segregation because of disabilities is a very poignant problem for Bulgaria. According to MES data only 1,538 children with special education needs are included in the process of education in the mainstream schools in the school year 2005/2006. The comparison with the total number of the disabled children of up to 18 years of age included in the statistics, which is 18,512, brings us to the conclusion that the prevailing number of the disabled children has been excluded from the process of education in the mainstream schools. The mentally retarded children brought up in HMRCJ in practice remain “uneducable” despite the legislative guarantees for their inclusion in the system of general education.
● As of 2007/2008 only half of the rehabilitation schools is supposed to function – the ones that are located in the district towns. They have to draw up plans for their own development. According to MES data out of the 62 existing rehabilitation schools 36 are also boarding schools, i.e. the social services they are offering are of benefit to the children at least 9 months throughout the year. Despite MES efforts to reconsider the format of the boarding schools and in assistance with the Child Protection Departments under SAD to bring the children from the rehabilitation schools back to their families for the weekends, for now most of the children from the rehabilitation schools remain separated from their family environment. This makes this type of special schools specialized institutions. The absence of adequate education, which is the BHC conclusion about the quality of the process of education in the rehabilitation schools, causes institutionalization of the students that went through the specialized schools. The RIE resource centers have not yet become the real alternative to the rehabilitation schools because of shortages of the legislative framework and of the administrative capacity.
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● “Correctional institutions” – social educational boarding schools and the educational boarding schools turn the stigma of socially inadaptable and dangerous to the society individuals to destiny for the children taught in them. Despite the progress made with regard to the guarantees against arbitrary placement in the institutions achieved by virtue of the amendments to the JDA adopted in July 2004, a number of the serious problems in the system continue to occur as persistently as before. In SBS and CBS a number of violations have been established with regard to the placement, as well as shortages of the delivery of adequate education and cares. A particularly poignant problem is the violation, which is a common practice in many of the boarding schools. The social segregation, which is a result of the current model of work of the correctional schools, generates criminality and growing exclusion. The children brought up in segregation do not acquire social skills for development in a normal environment; very often the syndrome of the institutionalization brands them for good. The overall impression of the legislative changes adopted in the past years is that they aim rather at justifying and providing for the future of the existing educational schools, rather than looking for more adequate mechanisms for prevention and correction of the juvenile delinquency. The new regulation does not impede the vicious practice to mix two categories of children at SBS and CBS – juvenile delinquents and children victims of violation and crimes. The illiteracy rate of the children from SBS is higher than the illiteracy rate of children from the mainstream schools. The monitoring through 2005 and 2006 has shown that the majority of the children from SBS have been placed only due to social reasons and they do not need educational measures, but rather protection measures.
● Reformatory boarding schools which are part of the penitentiary system for juveniles who have been imposed detention measure and for minors with sentences that have been entered into effect remain far from meeting the international standards.
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