Thousands of Bulgarian children are growing up without the loving protection of a family. Many children are abandoned due to disability, family breakdown and poverty. Less than 2% of children living in institutional care are orphans. The conditions and quality of care in most institutions are inadequate and many children suffer neglect. Institutional care can lead to development delays, stunted growth as well as emotional and behavioural problems.
A documentary film produced in 2007 by the BBC called ”Bulgaria’s Abandoned Children” caused an international outcry because the images of neglect were so shocking to witness in a country that had just become a member of the European Union. Viewers were overwhelmed with emotion and anger when they saw Bulgarian children brutalised and dying before their eyes when in State care, having been abandoned by their parents because of some form of disability. After the transmission of the film, MEP’s and Ministers across Europe visited Bulgaria to demand changes, to ask to see conditions in other institutes and to donate money to instigate the process of change and de-institutionalisation. Eighteen months after filming ”Bulgaria’s Abandoned Children” – Director Kate Blewett returned to Bulgaria – to film with a handful of the children featured in the original documentary – to see where they are today and how their lives have changed since the outcry. The documentary demonstrates how even apparently hopelessly withdrawn and “damaged” children can be reached, helped and given a meaningful life and future with the right care.
There are nearly 3,000 babies and young children living in institutional care in Bulgaria. Over 30% of the children are disabled. Many have been abandoned at birth. Once abandoned, their family rarely visit or reclaim them. For many children, their entire childhood will be spent in institutional care. The institutions are bleak, unhomely places and staff at the institutions are often responsible for more than 20 children at a time. Their duties include feeding, washing and dressing the children as well as carrying out other cleaning tasks so there is little time for individual attention or interaction. As a result children often spend their days lying in cribs or propped up on chairs with little communication or activities. This environment is very damaging to a child – they suffer emotional damage as well as physical and social delays in their development.