ARK Bulgaria – Small Group Homes for Children Leaving Institutional Care
This post was originally published in Stara Planina Properties newsletter on 7th December 2007.
Some of you may have watched the recent BBC broadcast concerning Bulgarian orphanages. It was a very negative portrayal of the plight of the kids living in one of these institutions. Bulgaria has an extremely poor legacy from the communist times when all the homeless kids had to be hidden not to disturb the perception of the “ideal” society. Nowadays the Bulgarian society does not accept the situation with the kids in the state institutions and there are many positive examples however the knowledge and experience how to bring the kids back to the community had to be brought to Bulgaria from other European countries which have had more positive experience dealing with such problems.
ARK is a UK charity, committed to transforming the lives of these children by providing them with better care, wherever possible based in families. ARK Bulgaria is developing foster care and adoption services and wherever possible supporting parents to take their children back home. Laura Partker, Managing Director of ARK Bulgaria, explained more about one of their projects in the Bulgarian city of Stara Zagora.
“Throughout Bulgaria, several thousand children live in institutions – often called ‘orphanages’, although only 2% of the children in these homes have no parents. These children are often very isolated, going to school as well as living in the institutions with little chance to socialise with others. The care which they receive does not allow them to develop fully and the emotional, intellectual and physical developmental damage which the children experience is often irreversible.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to find family placements for all of the children. For those who have nowhere else to go, ARK is developing small-scale, high quality children’s homes. In these ‘Small Group Homes’, 8 children will live with teams of dedicated, trained carers.
ARK is piloting this new approach for the first time in Bulgaria in Stara Zagora where 5 Small Group Homes are currently being finalised. Working with ‘Stara Planina Properties’, ARK has financed the refurbishment of two properties provided by the Municipality, built one home on Municipal land and purchased two apartments.
The first of the Small Group Homes opened in September 2007; the last one will open at the end of December. A total of 40 children will leave the institution Nadejda to live in these new homes – and to enjoy a quality of care and individual attention which will radically improve their long-term life chances.
After only a few weeks we have already seen dramatic differences in the behaviour of the children who moved into the new homes in September. Their physical appearance has also started to change: all of the children are putting on weight and one little girl who suffers from alopecia now has hair growing. The children are thriving, loving going to school in the community and enjoying having their own home and possessions – in many cases, for the first time in their lives.”
Eva Ward, an expert involved in the creation of the model being applied in Stara Zagora, have assessed the needs of the kids for toys.
“It has been difficult to be able to buy enough for the five homes from our budget. Our children have never actually had any proper toys before and we are desperate to give them the opportunity of some good quality play materials. I took a plastic tea set and a simple road track and cars to each of the three established Small Group Homes recently and could not believe the excitement and pleasure the children got from them.
The children are aged between 3 and 7 but many have developmental delay and need the kind of toys normally enjoyed by younger children – this will also help us to work with development issues. These are some ideas -
Cuddly soft toys – we would like each child to have a good quality teddy or other animal soft toy to keep on their beds and to cuddle at bedtime. This would be their very own and they would keep it forever! There would need to be 8 different types to ensure that there are not two the same in each home – so no confusion or fights! The children have never had anything of their own before.
Baby dolls – we would like one for each Small Group Homes – again quite a big one so it is like a real baby. We do lots of ‘playing families’ with the children which is very much ‘learning through play’ as of course our children have no idea about families or caring for babies. There are quite nice ones that come in a set with baby bottles and various extras! A dolls pram or pushchair for the above baby!
Strong plastic trucks and cars - the children are quite heavy handed with toys due to their lack of experience and so toys need to be as robust as possible.
Lego or other building/construction toys – I know lego is very expensive but it is such good value for co-ordination and concentration. We will try to accumulate collections for each Small Group Homes over time.
Educational toys – I’ve seen sets of matching cards (classic pairs games) and numbers games etc here now. Anything in this category is always welcome.
If by any chance you are in the UK and wish to buy from there absolutely anything from the Early Learning Centre would be fantastic!”
Each home is fully equipped but there are items which would be good to have in addition to what has been provided by the foundation. These are kitchen robots (one costing about 80 levs), toasters (40 levs), kettles (35 levs) for each home and one camera for all the kids so that they have pictures of their birthdays, Christmas parties, first school days and other event arranged in their own albums.
The team of Stara Planina Properties’ Sofia office were touched by the kids and bought winter jackets for all of them. We will also contribute to purchase some toys and other necessary items but the kids grow and always need support – new toys, clothes, shoes. So if any of you, our clients, wish to contribute we will be able to help with the logistics.