Bulgaria has the highest number of institutionalised mentally and physically disabled children in Europe. Not all of the institutionalised children are disabled: others are illegitimate or from Roma (gypsy) families who face extreme discrimination and often cannot afford to keep their children. Altogether only around 2% of the children actually have no parents, the rest are named ‘social orphans’.
Once children are in the system, they have little chance of getting out. Institutions begin with babies and run right through the teens and up to the age of 18. After this almost all are consigned to adult institutions where they spend the rest of their lives.
Institutions have proven detrimental effects on development. A lack of care and attention combined with a poor environment leads to a lack of stimulation which adversely affects development in all fields; cognition, language, behavioural development and social skills are all affected by the sheer lack of attention, affection and opportunities to learn through interaction.
Institutionalised adults and children are isolated from communities and often lack basic life skills that we would class as normality. Many communities are unaware of the institutions that they live beside and don’t understand or welcome the people that come from within them. This is mainly due to a lack of education given to society about the conditions and background that the people have come from and are subject to.
Holding out Hope has always been realistic about what we hope to achieve in this interesting country, which is one of the poorest in the EU. From our experience working within the institutions and alongside the carers we are fully aware of the difficulties you can face when trying to suggest change and adapt the approach used to care for them.
It takes time, respect and a level of understanding of the challenges carers face daily in order for us to be able to influence a positive change in their approach. Appreciating where they are coming from and using our own knowledge to help educate them provides us with a solid relationship to help us keep moving forward in creating small daily changes. It’s these small changes that make a huge difference. Holding out Hope work alongside the institution’s directors and carers to help increase the quality and level of care the people in their institutions receive.
Although Bulgaria is currently undertaking the huge task of deinstitutionalising large children’s institutions, Holding out Hope is striving to see an equally dramatic change in the care of adults, so that all of the residents have their human rights respected. Holding out Hope shares all observations of poor practice and abuse with Amnesty International and The Helsinki Committee, who monitor care in this institution.
This letter was written to alert Amnesty International to the fact that, although it has been 12 years, the living conditions in Samuil have not changed and it is still, as they previously stated, a “warehouse of neglect.” This is part of Holding out Hope’s endeavours to have the institution closed by a larger organisation, and for the residents to be transferred to small group homes where their individual needs can be more sufficiently met.
Chairman, Pete Brady, has been in correspondence with the Helsinki Committee regarding the state of the large institution in Samuil, reporting Holding out Hope’s findings and observations. The following documents recent correspondence, before and after a volunteer trip in June, and in which the position of residents to challenge their situation judicially is discussed.
The following document is a Holding out Hope news update from back in June 2012, which serves to highlight the appalling, unchanging state of the large institution in Samuil.
The following document outlines the human rights of persons places in institutions as outlined by the United Nations of Human Rights.