How Centre For Inclusive Education Contributed The International Keeping Children Safe Standards To Change The Perceptions For Child Protection in Bulgaria?
Stefan Yordanov, School Coordination and Child Protection and Participation Expert is one of the founders of Centre for Inclusive Education. In his article for the blog of the international network Keeping Children Safe, he tells about his reasons and work done through the years to introduce the international standards of the organization in Bulgaria and how this impacted positively and in a long term the perception for child protection.
Two years into a career as a child protection officer at the Save the Children UK (SCUK) office in Bulgaria and my love for the job had, if anything increased so much that when the programme closed down in 2007, we started a small NGO to continue our work in education and child protection. The Centre for Inclusive Education (CIE) was born.
During the final year of SCUK we managed to translate the Keeping Children Safe toolkit into Bulgarian and produced the Bulgarian subtitles for the DVD. Richard Powell, who is now the Director of Global Child Safeguarding at Save the Children International, visited our office and delivered two trainings - one for our staff and another one for representatives of governmental structures such as the State Agency for Child Protection and Agency for Social Assistance.
This is how it all started for me eight years ago. The childcare system in Bulgaria was very young. Most of the unwanted children were placed in institutions and attended boarding auxiliary schools. Social workers in child protection departments needed constant and consistent capacity building as they were underpaid and under qualified. Bulgarian NGOs did not see the need of having child safeguarding systems in place.
I felt overwhelmed and clueless in the beginning, but the Keeping Children Safe toolkit turned out to be a great source of knowledge. CIE’s first project, funded by OAK Foundation, aimed for better protection for vulnerable children through recognising and implementing the international Keeping Children Safe standards by all non-governmental and governmental structures in Bulgaria that work directly with children. CIE has built a network of NGOs with common understanding of child protection matters and trained 14 trainers from different NGOs. Our partners took this knowledge to the local Child Protection Departments in all 28 administrative regions to help social workers at these structures be more co-operative and take steps to address the challenge and become child safe.
But there was much more to be done to ensure the full respect and protection of children’s rights. During the course of the project it became obvious that it was essential that all local stakeholders introduce systems to recruit staff appropriately, address poor practice and behaviour, respond to child protection concerns when they arise and have a proper communication system with each other including institutions for children, daycare centres, schools, kindergartens, child protection departments, juvenile delinquency police departments and juvenile judges in order to solve challenging cases.
Between 2009 and 2012 CIE developed a working model for appropriate rapid reaction to child abuse cases, based on Keeping Children Safe standards, for non-governmental and governmental structures that work directly with children at a local level in five municipalities. In 2010 State Agency for Child Protection introduced a multidisciplinary mechanism for co-operation and co-ordination in child abuse cases, signed by seven ministries which was also based on the Keeping Children Safe international standards.
There is no getting around the fact that child safeguarding work is actually a minefield. Once we managed to assess and improve the existing policies and practices in the area, we found out that we needed to adapt the KCS self-audit tool to fit the Bulgarian child protection system. Being the Centre for Inclusive Education we could not avoid the fact that, children with special needs were the most vulnerable children at school and are constantly at risk of abuse, neglect and/or bullying. Schools are still not sufficiently aware of the importance of building child safety measures into their work. Most schools in Bulgaria do not even have child safeguarding policies. Since 2014 CIE has integrated parts of the KCS self audit tool in its self evaluation tool of school environment as child safeguarding is now a fundamental part of CIE concept of an inclusive school.
As you can see, through the years we have managed to use the Keeping Children Safe standards and guidance in many ways. I would love to think that all we did had some positive changes on somebody’s life. What else would you want from a job?