09 October 2017

Children we hear you!

Bulgaria Child Participation Panel June 2017

At Hope and Homes for Children we place great emphasis on child participation. Our whole ethos is based on listening to children to find out what they want, rather than assuming we know what they need.

In our infancy we worked to improve the institutions where children lived, with fresh paint and clothes and toys, because we thought that’s what they needed.

Then we decided to ask the children what they really wanted. And we listened.

Overwhelmingly, over many years and across several countries where we work and have influence, children confined to institutions have told us that orphanages are horrible places to live in. They desperately want to grow up within the love and safety of a family, and so that is what we have set out to achieve.

Because we listened.

In June this year, Hope and Homes for Children in Bulgaria hosted their annual national conference titled ‘Excellence, courage and integrity in turbulent times.’

Five children were invited to work alongside 130 representatives of ministries, government agencies, municipalities, regional and municipal administrations, child protection departments, non- governmental organizations and the media. The children chaired a panel where two teams of adults had to guess the top answers that 30 children gave to four main questions, related to child safety and participation.

The game stirred up lots of emotions and energized the entire room of people. Whenever adults gave an answer which wasn’t entirely correct, children consulted with each other and decided collectively whether or not the answer was acceptable.

One of the questions was, “What do children do if they are scared?” One of the adults answered, “They seek the help of a professional from the system.” This answer was voted as wrong by the children. “No, sorry, no child has said that,” they explained. The answers given by children included sharing fears with an adult they trusted or with their friends. They also said that they fought their fears by doing something they liked, such as a sport or other hobby.

The game highlighted how difficult it is for adults to put themselves into a child’s shoes; to understand the mix of emotions and fears that haunt children who are confined to, or are at risk of being confined to, orphanages.

Our team in Bulgaria was established in 2011 and focuses on helping children aged 0-3. Despite years of political uncertainty in the country, the team have transformed children’s lives preventing 1232 children entering institutions, reintegrating 163 children with their families and closing 14 institutions for babies. You can read one of their success stories here

In the Bulgaria team’s own words, “Hope and Homes for Children strives to turn children’s dreams into reality – supporting families to stay together, to let children know that they are loved, that they matter as individuals, that they will never see the inside of an institution.”