Outputs and Resources

The Family Puzzle – A 2-minute animation about Foster Care in Bulgaria

ReFaB Conversations Podcast

In this first episode of the four-part podcast series, we contextualise the development of foster care in Bulgaria and discuss the challenges which have occurred with trying to reform an institutional care system. We also share experiences about the support needs of foster parents and the important role of foster families in the lives of children with disabilities who are in state care.

A drawing of a smiling family groupAbout the podcast

This podcast is focused on creating space for important conversations about the development of foster care in Bulgaria. The podcast is hosted by Dr Sarah Todorov from the University of Birmingham in the UK. Sarah is joined by colleagues who have between them a wide and rich range of experience of foster care and the de-institutionalisation process spanning the last twenty or more years.

In this 4-part series, Sarah and her guests discuss the history of foster care in Bulgaria, ways to effectively support foster families who care for children with disabilities, the importance of family for every child and the importance of increasing access to family-based alternative care for children with disabilities.

Podcast guests

Galina Bisset is one of the founders and a CEO of the NGO "Equilibrium" which is an organisation that manages social services delegated by the state and develops social innovation through projects. Galina has worked in the field of child protection and care for 23 years. She has been involved with international organisations such as Save the Children UK, CARE Int. and Hope and Homes for Children UK. Throughout her career, Galina has been involved in piloting and developing foster care in Bulgaria and has supported similar efforts in Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Mexico and Nepal. 
Galina Bisset

Bisser Spirov is Senior Technical Advisor at Lumos where he provides technical support to different stakeholders who are trying to implement reform of childcare system by stopping systematic institutionalization of children. Bisser has been working in the field of childcare in Bulgaria since 1993 where he started as a group worker in an orphanage in Sofia. He has been involved in assessing children for placement in specialised institutions, training and supervising professionals in the field of child care, implementation of alternative services for children and families and national consultancy for social service provision in Bulgaria. He later participated in different projects regarding assessing different type of specialized institutions for children, training and supervision of different professionals in the field of child care. Since 2010, Bisser has been working specifically with his current organisation, Lumos, Since 2010, where he has been deeply involved in the process of DI for children with disabilities in Bulgaria, supporting State Agency for Child Protection to implement Childhood for All Project.
Bisser Spirov

Evgeniya Toneva is a researcher and child protection specialist working at the Know-how Centre for Alternative Care for Children in Sofia. Evgeniya's field of expertise is the deinstitutionalization reform in Bulgaria which she has been involved with since 2012 in different roles. Over the last 5 years while working at the Know-how centre, Evgeniya has coordinated research in two national studies of the impact of the deinstitutionalization process in Bulgaria involving more than 400 participants, including foster parents and children. Recently, she has been involved in an evaluation of the work of social services providing support for foster parents and children in the region of Sofia.
Evgeniya Toneva

Webinar Recording: How do foster parents experience caring for children with disabilities in Bulgaria?

A qualitative research study conducted by Sarah Todorov, a Post-doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham, UK, looks at the existing practices of foster care for children with disabilities in Bulgaria by researching the experiences of foster parents who have cared for children with disabilities.

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.

A drawing of two parents with their disabled child who is in a wheelchairIn 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.

A drawing of a doctor with parents and a small childIn 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.

Research findings and recommendations video

A short video summarising key findings and recommendations from a research project conducted by Dr Sarah Todorov on the experiences of foster parents in Bulgaria.

This video contains a summary of the findings and recommendations of this research. This video aims to be an accessible and easy-to-watch introduction to the study.

Research report

Research Infographic

Partner organisations

The outputs from the ReFaB project have been co-constructed with representatives from a range of organisations involved in promoting family-based alternative care in Bulgaria. Additional partner organisations have been involved in sharing and distributing these outputs to further the reach of the messages of the research to create greater impact across Europe to further the development of foster care for children with disabilities who are separated from parental care.