Project Closing Conference "Pathways to Freedom: Empowering Young people leaving Alternative Care to Live an Independent and Fulfilling Life"
On 20 October the final conference of the project "Pathways to Freedom: Empowering Young People Leaving Alternative Care to Live an Independent and Fulfilling Life" was held in Sofia, Bulgaria. The aim of the conference was to present the results the project achieved, with a special focus on the developed new social service supporting young people and its quality standards.
The conference was opened by Mrs. Valeria Georgieva, National Director of SOS Children's Villages Bulgaria. She stated that even though the conference is named “final conference”, it does not put an end to anything, but instead it is regarded as a milestone in the work of SOS Children's Villages Bulgaria. "For 21 years now, the organization has been supporting young people through its Start of Independent Life program, but thanks to the project we have been able to expand the scope and support children outside the SOS organization because we do not live in a closed mode and many young people need support – there is a great need for such a service," she said. "The other big plus of the project is that we managed to expand our activities to care leavers from alternative care outside of SOS CV Bulgaria and in three further municipalities – Russe, Stara Zagora and Plovdiv. That's why this conference is very important because we are joined by a lot of other voices that know this support is needed, we know how to implement it, and we're going to be advocates for children," she said.
Mr. Veselin Komitov, President of the Board of the Association and Mrs. Ivayla Kaserova, Deputy President of the State agency for child protection, presented welcome words. She stressed how important the project is because it enables young people to get support when they need it most. She went back to her memories and said one of the most emotional encounters of her life was the one with a little girl she first met 20 years ago. Then, as a social worker, she placed her in a foster family of the organization, after a while she moved to the youth homes of the organization, where she was supported by specialists, so that she could continue her education, manage her income properly and become independent. "After 20 years, one day life made it possible that I met this girl again, but this time she held a diploma in her hand and a red rose, was successful and independent, then I realized how timely the support she received was," said Ivayla Kaserova.
Marian Dyankov, NPDD at SOS Children's Villages Bulgaria made an overview of the project, which was implemented in the period 2020-2022 in the municipalities of Sofia, Pernik, Plovdiv, Stara Zagora, Ruse, Gabrovo and Veliko Tarnovo. The project is implemented with the financial support of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway under the Active Citizens Bulgaria Fund.
The objective of the project is to support young people leaving alternative care in Bulgaria to successfully start their independent lives by providing a new social service "Support for independent life". The new social service supports young people through an individual contract for provision of support in six areas – education, sustainable employment, regular income, housing, health care, responsibility to their own well-being and emotional stability. More than 200 young people from all over the country were supported as a result of the implementation of the project. The largest share of support provided was professional and educational courses, followed by support for housing and health care, including mental health care. "One of the objectives of the project is advocate to achieve strong commitment of the state and civil society to support the independent lives of young people leaving care", commented Marian Dyankov.
During the conference, Dr. Stoyan Mihaylov from Junction Bulgaria presented a report on the current situation of young people in care, their basic needs, the policies and structures that are engaged in meeting their needs, and Dr. Natalia Hristova-Mihaylova presented a proposal for future standard of social service in support of young people leaving alternative care.
During the conference we also had the opportunity to hear the opinions and messages of young people who lived in alternative care, as well as their experience of starting independent lives. A separate session was also dedicated to the problems and challenges from the point of view of the supporting professionals.
The conference was attended by over 100 people from all over the country, including young people who have left care, state institutions, municipalities, social service providers, foster parents and experts.
The conference was also attended by guests from SOS Associations in Norway and Northern Macedonia. From Norway participants were Mrs. Kjersti Movold, Project Manager at SOS Association and Mr. Stian H Thoresen, Senior Researcher at NTNU. SOS Norway has supported the project in Bulgaria through the co-funding mechanism.
From Northern Macedonia participants were members of the international project YEEP – Youth Empowerment Enabling prospects:
Kornelija Cipusheva Spasovska – Regional Project Manager, Youth Empowerment Enabling
Irena Dodevska – Youth Personal counsellor/Trainer, Youth Empowerment Enabling Prospects YEEP
Jane Petrovski - Coordinator for Social integration of youth & Coordinator of YouthCan!, SOS Children’s Village Macedonia
Gjorgji Simov - Professional worker for Social Integration of youth, SOS Children’s Village Macedonia
As neighboring countries that share the same challenges and realities in providing care for children and support to young people for us it was important to hear about the experience of our colleagues in Northern Macedonia and to learn about the YEEP project and their work with young people.