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An example of children at risk of family separation

Watch Galina Markove discuss children of ethnic minorities and migrant populations in particular Roma children and risk of family separation
Why are Roma children overrepresented in the residential care system? This is a new phenomenon, this Roma over representation. And it very much relates to the nature of institutional care in Bulgaria. It started as a political agenda. Institutionalisation was foreign to the Bulgarian culture, and it started with the socialist regime and in 1945. And it was not aimed at assimilating Roma or addressing poverty, or any of these things. It was ideology-based. It was consistent with the communist ideology, according to which, the state was to become a parent, to force the ideology of communism, through the family system, through the children.
So that’s how the institutional system was built in Bulgaria, and it is very specific political effort to separate children from parents. This has to be understood, because now it influences the development of the community services, because the attitudes remain the same. So in the beginning, the system was aimed at children’s education. So it was perceived by parents as something very good. Actually, Bulgarian parents would place their children, affluent Bulgarian parents, so this was very, very strange thing. After the changes, after the communist regime ended in Bulgaria in 1989, institutions started to address poverty, and then Roma children became overrepresented. Because the nature of the problem changed.
But Roma children and families became especially vulnerable after the changes, because the crisis became economic. The demographic crisis became very severe in Bulgaria after the communist regime ended. So this was the thing. Helsinki Watch in Bulgaria published a study according to which 70% of the institutionalised children were Roma. But now, it is very difficult to say what is the exact number, but we know all the services, community services, that do deinstitutionalisation, meaning that they close the institution, and they develop residential services in the community, know that mostly these are Roma children. Are Roma children being included in the deinstitutionalisation programme in Bulgaria? All children are included in deinstitutionalisation in Bulgaria. There is no difference.
We have to close all institutions until 2025. This is the year when we are supposed to get rid of this system. Still, the problem with deinstitutionalisation now is very much connected to community services, because deinstitutionalisation is a foreign agenda in Bulgaria. The policy of deinstitutionalisation was imposed by the European Commission. It was not the Bulgarian process, so the attitudes of the general population, and the professionals who don’t get any relevant training, is the same. Many professionals still don’t know what deinstitutionalisation means. Why do we need to close institutions? So the problem now is that because of these attitudes, because the attitudes have not changed, we reproduce the culture of institutionalisation in the de-institutionalized services, so the culture is the same.
And overrepresentation of Roma is the same, because it is very easy to take a child away from a Roma family and to place the child in an institution, and also because of the budgeting, because of the financial aspects of deinstitutionalisation. Because we fund beds in these residential services in the community now– we are not speaking any more about the institutional care– the interest of the services are to maintain a certain number of placements there. So, of course, this is abuse, but it happens, and it’s happening every day in Bulgaria under the frame of child protection, and this is the manipulation of the child protection system. Interestingly enough, in comparison with Bulgarian families, Roma families became very critical to institutionalised care.
It is very much in the culture of Roma to stay very close in the family, so institutionalisation is affecting the most vulnerable Roma families, those Roma families who are excluded for some cultural reasons from their own communities. That’s why it is very important, when addressing institutionalisation of Roma, to solve the problem within the community by the Roma leaders, activists, who understand desegregation of Roma within the Roma, so that they can address institutionalisation and separation of Roma families. Because they are excluded. They don’t have access to any other services. Police has neglected totally Roma communities, and this is a fact. It’s document, well documented. They don’t have access to health services or legal services.
So there is no way that they can signal, they can protest, and they’re really very vulnerable. And speaking about the most vulnerable of the vulnerable, Roma, you can imagine that it is very easy. It’s very easy to help the vulnerable.

In this video, Chrissie Gale speaks to Dr Galina Markova. Galina is Manager of the Know How Centre on Alternative Care for Children in the New Bulgarian University in Sofia. She has a Masters in Clinical Social Work at the New Bulgarian University and a PhD in Social Work from Smith College, USA. Her PhD dissertation is on research into attachment representations of parents whose children live in institutions. Her experience in the field of deinstitutionalisation started when she took part in a survey of the impact of institutionalisation of babies in Bulgaria. Galina combines attachment theory and strengths-based approaches in teaching, research, and clinical practice. She has implemented innovative practices for integrating children and families affected by multiple discrimination.

Galina tells us about the prejudice some ethnic groups may experience and how that can put children of those communities at a higher risk of coming into care. In particular, she shares her knowledge about the challenges facing the Roma community in Bulgaria and how their often-heightened vulnerability to social exclusion and poverty can lead to the increased possibility of their children being placed in alternative care. This is sometimes compounded by a higher degree of belief among professionals, and public, that certain ethnic minorities, including Roma, are unable to cope appropriately with parenting responsibilities. Galina concludes by highlighting how important it is for professionals and others to take a committed anti-discriminatory approach when engaging with marginalised communities.

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