About the webinar
On the 16 February 2023, an online seminar was held, which presented an up-to-date study of foster care for children brought up in Bulgaria.
The research was conducted by Sarah Todorov, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham. Dozens of Bulgarian and foreign representatives from universities, educational centers, Bulgarian government representatives, foster care teams, public support centers, social services for children and families, early childhood development centers, non-governmental organisations, municipal employees and social workers were present.
In her presentation, Sarah Todorov examines the development of foster care as a form of alternative family-based care in the context of deinstitutionalisation. Data was collected through in-depth semi-structured interviews with foster parents who have practical experience of caring for children with disabilities. Access to them was difficult due to their fear of revealing their identity and their experiences. They shared what it means to them to be foster parents, what their daily life looks like, what support they received, what my support they wanted to receive, what challenges they face, what their relationships with the health and education system are like, what their motivation is in terms of continuing to care for such children, and why in some cases they have given up being foster parents.
The findings presented show that the care that foster parents provide is not only about direct care of children, but also about advocacy. Preparing parents to step into the role of advocates for the rights of the children they care for is something that unites these parents. Some of the foster parents sought additional information themselves to be able to meet the needs of the children in their care. They themselves wanted to become more competent so that they could better respond to both the emotional and educational needs of children. In this way, they are able to reach a level of special competence described as the development of specialised childcare skills. However, these skills which are key to better care are not valued by the social welfare system as having personal value or valuable capacity.
In light of the findings of the study, Sarah shared a number of recommendations for the development of practice in foster care in Bulgaria. The first recommendation is to urgently improve the access of children with returns to foster care through targeted development of foster care as an alternative to group residential care. Family-based care is important for all children, including children with disabilities, and should be promoted, especially in all protection and social services. The second recommendation concerns changing attitudes towards foster care. These are issues that relate to the public and the media, which must recognize the importance of the role of foster parents. The third recommendation concerns the implementation of effective support services for foster parents. The support they receive directly affects the quality of care. This support should be based on a productive interaction with professionals based on the required level of expertise and with peers. Last but not least, foster parents who care for children with disabilities should be seen as a very important part of children's development. The development of their professional skills and emotional support are factors that would prevent this professional burnout.
After Sarah’s presentation, the floor was opened up for questions from the audience. An interesting discussion took place, focusing on current problems related to the care of children with disabilities in Bulgaria. Some issues that were mentioned by the participants included: difficult procedures associated with accessing disability allowances for children, the limited options for people with disabilities to develop an independent life after reaching the age of 18, the lack of access and specialised transport to emergency medical care in small settlements, the need to organise peer support groups between adoptive and biological parents of foster children, and the need to conduct national campaigns to give foster parents of children with disabilities a platform to talk about their experiences.