Ivanka Shalapatova: Every Child Has the Right to Live in a Safe Family Environment

Novinite Insider » INTERVIEW | Author: Nadina Georgieva |March 18, 2015, Wednesday // 13:06| Views: | Comments: 1
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Bulgaria: Ivanka Shalapatova: Every Child Has the Right to Live in a Safe Family Environment Photo: Ivanka Shalapatova

Novinite has interviewed Ivanka Shalapatova, Executive Director of the Four Our Children foundation. Shalapatova has a considerable contribution to the protection of children's rights in Bulgaria and the fight against child abuse. She instrumental in the successful implementation of regional and global experience in the protection of children's rights.

Shalapatova is among those who introduced foster care to Bulgaria. This year, she became the winner in our Personality in the News poll's Charity section.

The For Our Children Foundation has provided support for more than 6000 children and has been working for 22 years to make sure that every child grows up loved and supported by its family. In 2014 alone, the foundation helped 616 children at risk, a number beyond its results of previous years, and prevented the sending of 380 of them to institutions. The same year, it worked with 58 foster families and accommodated 66 children.

What motivates you to engage in charity?

We live in a society that has inherited a range of practices and attitudes that are damaging to Bulgarian children. I cannot put up with violence against children, with the failure to guarantee their basic needs and rights, and with the silent and permanent isolation of children at orphanages. This motivated me to turn my back on my student’s dream of being a leader in the tourism sector and for 18 years now I have been devoting all of mu energy to the mission of striving to make sure that every Bulgarian child lives in a secure family environment and develops their full potential. I am also motivated by the thousands of adherents to the cause of the “For Our Children” Foundation because no achievements would have been possible without them. Doing good deeds is difficult but when you are not alone it makes things easier. I am also motivated by the developing civil society and by the other colleagues who also spare no effort to defend other important causes. I am also motivated by people’s values and good interpersonal relations that are gaining ground even in Bulgaria. I am also motivated by the freedom to accomplish my dreams in our country and to be an innovator and author of your success.

Are Bulgarians helpful?

Help is multidimensional and every human being is willing to help somebody in need, provided that they find the right way of doing it. The “For Our Children” Foundation gives different communities the opportunity to become a part of the solution to the real problem for children – the lack of a family to look after them. It is important for everybody to realize that they can contribute to preventing newborns and small children from living in isolation. I truly believe that we should not treat children solely as receivers of donations but as rights-holders that must be provided with a secure family environment and a good start in life.

What are the challenges you face in your work?

Managing a non-governmental organization in a country where civil society is still young and public sentiment towards it is often negative is a challenge in itself. I strive to demonstrate how our organization is organized and how it functions on a daily basis in all of my actions because I can sense substantial mistrust and misunderstanding.

When we are trusted, we face the next challenge related to the mission of the organization. I am often asked why we need to take children out of childcare institutions and leave them with bad parents. The protection of children’s rights and the application of modern approaches to social protection based on respect for the individual and human rights, on empowerment and trust, and on social innovations, are spheres of activity that are challenging in a society like ours. On the one hand we fight prejudice towards disabilities and differences in general; on the other hand, we fight resistance to change. Sometimes it seems that inertia is too much for the team of the organization to bear. We are an organization that is an innovator in the social sphere.

Society’s inertness often exhausts a substantial portion of our constructive energy. I am glad that our team includes some of the best experts in the field, who are also highly-motivated and have sufficient energy to overcome these obstacles. The most serious challenge we face is the fact that children’s lives develop at a much faster pace compared to the pace at which all systems in their surroundings change, including family, kindergarten and school, community, public institutions, and child protection policy. These systems change very slowly in Bulgaria, which takes its toll on thousands of children who are in a difficult situation. Our society is dimly aware of the crucial role of investment in early child development and a quality child protection system for the prosperity of society as a whole. Due to the fact that in the case of children investment return takes longer than the term in office of politicians, their welfare is not a priority. This has been the case so for many years! The crisis at a certain bank often attracts more active debate than the crisis plaguing Bulgaria’s child protection system.

Why is it important for children not to live in institutions?

Every child has the right to live in secure family surroundings. Nursing homes and collective de-personalized childcare are things of the past and the reform of this system is an essential task for societies in post-totalitarian countries. Institutional childcare has a powerful negative impact on child development. There is plenty of research and evidence to prove this fact. Despite that, myths often exert a stronger influence over societies than the arguments against this childcare system. It is a firm belief of our organization that these institutions must become a thing of the past. We can

replace them with a range of modern forms of support for families where children grow and develop. Naturally, in order for this change to happen, there has to be commitment, as well as a mobilization of all social resources. This must be a well-guided process and the role of all interested parties must be recognized and encouraged. The most important thing is not to neglect the stance of children and families on these reforms as they must be put at the basis of the childcare system.

Some 2000 babies are abandoned each year. How can the state and society contribute to the elimination of this trend so that every child in Bulgaria lives in a family?

A proactive and supportive family policy carried out by all public institutions, as well as by society, is a major precondition. It is essential for family support to arrive at a time when the separation of the child from the family and its abandonment at a state institution has not yet become inevitable. This support has to come from the people who are closest to the family and the public institutions, and the local community. If parents, relatives, or the doctor monitoring

the pregnancy submit a signal early enough that the family of the child is experiencing difficulties, there is a greater chance of the child protection system and partners like the “For Our Children” Foundation preventing the abandonment. Medical workers also play an important role in this. They can curb the practice of advising parents of children with disabilities to abandon them at institutions and instead prepare the parents for the challenges that their parental care involves.

It is also important that the family has guaranteed access to support services that match their specific needs. Judging from the experience of our organization, I can say that it is essential that the social worker involved in family support activities has the necessary knowledge, skills and resources. Efficient family support includes providing both material assistance and training.

Do you believe that there is sufficient focus on this problem in society?

Our society is no longer indifferent. There seems to be increased public awareness of the problems of children living in institutions. We can safely say that people in Bulgaria are becoming increasingly involved in charity initiatives. It is nevertheless a good idea to try harder to be attentive to potential crises experienced by families living nearby or by relatives or friends. Perhaps it is a good idea to increase efforts to show solidarity, be it with a little help only. It would be a good idea

to revise our understanding of children as right-holders instead of as a function of the activities and thoughts of their parents. It would be a very good idea to realize that it is up to us to solve the problems of children at risk in Bulgaria. Last but not least, it is a good idea to rethink our values and to place high priority on child welfare and the role of the family for it. Only then can we feel the true preconditions for social prosperity that goes beyond physical survival.

What should foster care be like? How does our society treat the profession of foster parent?

It is high time we realized that foster care is the only solution we have from now on for a certain group of children at risk. There will always be families who will not be able to cope with the difficult task of providing quality care for their children. What is more, the impact of widespread poverty, isolation, unemployment, and discrimination on parents in Bulgaria provokes an extremely inadequate and even aggressive behavior towards children, which neglects their rights and leaves them traumatized for life. Well-prepared and well-chosen foster families, which receive adequate support from specialists such as the colleagues from the “For Our Children” Foundation, are the most valuable resource that our society can and must build and preserve in order to offer children a quality alternative in cases when their family is incapable of looking after them. We can rethink our behavior towards a foster family that we know or one that lives nearby and we can also offer them our support. It is high time we stopped yielding to provocative suggestions that one part of society is better than another one. Change in Bulgaria depends on all of us. I will remain an optimist as I have been for the past 17 years since I joined our organization. I believe that we have huge potential to accomplish change today so that we can influence our future

We live in a society that has inherited a range of practices and attitudes that are damaging to Bulgarian children. I cannot put up with violence against children, with the failure to guarantee their basic needs and rights, and with the silent and permanent isolation of children at orphanages. This motivated me to turn my back on my student’s dream of being a leader in the tourism sector and for 18 years now I have been devoting all of mu energy to the mission of striving to make sure that every Bulgarian child lives in a secure family environment and develops their full potential. I am also motivated by the thousands of adherents to the cause of the “For Our Children” Foundation because no achievements would have been possible without them. Doing good deeds is difficult but when you are not alone it makes things easier. I am also motivated by the developing civil society and by the other colleagues who also spare no effort to defend other important causes. I am also motivated by people’s values and good interpersonal relations that are gaining ground even in Bulgaria. I am also motivated by the freedom to accomplish my dreams in our country and to be an innovator and author of your success.

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Tags: children, foster parents, family, For Our Children Foundation, Personality in the News
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» To the forumComments (1)
#1
Seedy - 19 Mar 2015 // 11:35:53

What a VERY long-winded way of saying: "Stop tsigani from breeding like rabbits and get them to behave like normal people"!

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