Bulgarian Social Workers: We Are Not Taking Away Maria Siblings
Social workers have tried to downplay the impact of their decision to seize most of the brothers and sisters of Maria, the four-year-old Bulgarian Roma girl who made rounds in world media after being discovered in a Roma camp in Greece.
"The placement of the children in foster care is only a temporary stage," Emil Todorov, director of the Children Protection Department of Bulgaria's Agency for Social Assistance, told CNN.
The statement comes in response to the mother's strong opposition to the news, even threatening suicide.
"We don't take away the children," he said. "We count on the collaboration by the whole family to cope with this difficult situation."
"We have to work with both parents, so that they can expand their parental potential," said Todorov.
The goal is to give the parents the chance to improve their living conditions -- in which case they can be reunited with their children. Social services will help the parents find a job, he said.
While the children are in foster care, social workers will encourage frequent meetings with their parents, so that the family maintains its emotional connection, he said.
The mother Sasha Ruseva and her husband have nine other children between the ages of two and 20 and live in dire poverty.
Local authorities have decided to accommodate four of the kids with foster families, two - at a state institution, and one will be placed with relatives of the family.
Two other children are over 18 and not subject to state protection.
Since the children won't be living with the couple, Sasha and Atanas will not be eligible for child allowances, which are currently thier sole incomes.
The Agency for Social Assistance said it had determined the parents had another child too, who was "abandoned by her parents and raised by a family in another city."
It is not yet clear how she she ended up in the Greek Roma camp near Larissa. According to some accounts, she was given by her parents, who already had multiple children and are leading poor lives, for care at the other Roma clan. According to others, Maria was sold.
Maria - whom Ruseva originally named Stanka - is still in Greece. She is now being cared for by Greek children's charity Smile of a Child.
Authorities plan to place her in a foster family, but the mother said she wants her back.
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