Millions Designated for a Children’s Hospital Spent on the Scandalous Child Strategy
“This is what you get when you choose to give handouts to NGOs so that they can praise you.” That is what the former health minister Petar Moskov said. Current officials from the health ministry are thanking all the NGOs and foundations for helping with the law on social services.
“This is what you get when you choose to give handouts to NGOs so that they can praise you.” That is what the former health minister Petar Moskov said.
Different firms, NGOs and foundations along with staff from the ministry of social services will be deciding on which kids to be taken away from their families. Some of those NGOs are fast to announce that there is plenty of space available in their centres.
It is hard to fathom, yet a certain amount of money that was allocated for a national children’s hospital has been diverted to help the furtherment of the highly controversial and overwhelmingly opposed Gender Strategy for Children Protection. After this startling revelation from the former health minister Petar Moskov, one can rightfully ask: “ Are the most scandalous portions of the new law on social services influenced by powerful lobbying?” We are talking about those texts in the new law which make it easy for children to be ripped away from their families as of January 1st 2020. The strategy itself was revoked and abandoned, yet these scandalous texts have made their way to become part of this new law. And that is exactly what various parent organizations, 250 000 members in total, are protesting. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church, the “Support” syndicate union as well as protestant churches across the country are also among those protesting.
It is undeniable that the non-governmental sector is responsible for some quite prominent initiatives which have had a beneficial effect on society. However, whenever the government allows for NGOs and foundations to have a say in the development of laws and the taking away of children, that is when things get very suspicious. That is because those NGOs have vested interests in passing those scandalous texts into law. Furthermore, they have an interest in receiving parliamentary appropriated funds which they will be entitled to in their new role as privately contracted providers of social services. On the 7th of March the deputy minister for social services, Zornitza Russinova, expressed her thanks to her team and to various non-governmental organizations for their help in the development of the new law. It is precisely those NGOs and other licensed private firms that will receive part of the 290 million budget that was allocated by the government for privately contracted social services. In other words, NGOs are helping to craft a law which will enable them to receive and manage a substantial amount of government funds. Things got even more bizarre, when the former health minister Petar Moskov announced that he had negotiated 40 million levs of direct financing in line with the Norwegian financial mechanism for the construction of a national children’s hospital. However, with the coming into power of the interim government that contract was cancelled and shortly thereafter the money was diverted into several smaller projects. One of them is the development of the gender strategy for children protection. “When you decide to give handouts to NGOs instead of building a children’s hospital, this is what you get.” said Moskov. Now these foundations and firms will be receiving 290 million levs. An amount large enough for people to turn a blind eye for. Therefore, quite naturally the question of whether “mandatory social services” will be enforced as a result of ulterior disingenuous motives comes to mind. Placing a child “at risk” outside of its loving family is an example of such a “service”.
There are two things that have become abundantly clear by now. The first one is that the government has created a lucrative financial proposition for NGOs so that it can relieve itself from its numerous duties. The second one is that the non-governmental sector is determined to successfully receive and manage millions of levs.
So what exactly is it that parent organizations such as “ROD” as well as “March for Family”, the Orthodox Church and the protestant churches worry about? Article 36 of the Law for Children Protection states that a multidisciplinary team will be deciding whether a kid should be taken out of their home. A member of this team could be a representative of the provider of social services. According to the law, that person can be chosen by a licensed private firm or by a NGO, both domestic or foreign.
“168 hours” asked the ministry of social services whose idea that was more than a month ago. Was it their idea or was it introduced by some NGOs, yet there was no response from the ministry on that. Furthermore, our scheduled interview with the former minister of social services – Biser Petkov did not happen. We were trying to re-schedule the interview for two weeks. We made a last attempt on the 26th of November – sadly to no avail. One of our questions aimed to establish whether the government was concerned about possible conflict of interest. The reason for that is that the non-governmental sector along with social workers will be managing the care of “children at risk” and then will be reimbursed for their services. There are several commercials for these NGOs currently on TV. One of them advertises the availability in its centre for persons at risk. Other ones advertise the advantages of its “blue rooms”. In them children will be questioned by a psychologist while the parents and other parties involved will be watching the interrogation from an adjacent premise.
It is said that some of the best Norwegian methods and practices are being facilitated in one of those “blue rooms”. This is precisely what infuriates a lot of parents because it is Norway that is currently losing cases in the European Court of Law for improper child-family separation. ( For more information please refer to the interview with lawyer Vladimir Sheytanov.) That is why “168 hours” asked the ministry whether the current legislative process had any safeguards to prevent NGOs from abusing the power vested in them. Bearing in mind that they may very well be looking for “victims of violence” and “children at risk” in order to serve their private financial interests.
It is also interesting to look at whether there are any control measures against such a scenario. That is quite important in light of the fact NGOs have been enabled to easily find “children at risk” due to a broad definition of that term in the new law. The regulations on the implementation of the law state that violence is considered to be any act of physical, psychological or sexual violence as well as negligent mistreatment which occurs in the family, at school or in any social context. Furthermore, the term “physical violence” as defined in the text includes causing pain or suffering without any damage to the child’s health. “Psychological violence”, on the other hand, is defined as any action such as underestimating or neglecting the child or as the parent’s inability to provide a suitable caring environment.
The definition of “child at risk” also includes children who are at risk for possible future impairment. If we look at all these definitions in their totality, it is quite easy to see that there isn’t really a child that would not be considered a “child at risk” by one or more of them. There is hardly a child that has never felt neglected by their parents while they were at work. Nor is there a child that has never been grounded or punished for a particular misconduct. It all comes down to who will be deciding on this. As we know, that will be the multidisciplinary team which will be comprised of private firm and NGO representatives…
The other bothersome fact for the parents and the church is that in the regulations on the implementation of the law “violence” is way too broadly defined. There, “violence” is defined as both “neglect” and “ridicule” as well as “use of a child for sexual gratification.” In essence, every disciplinary action by the parent or any given religious ritual could be interpreted as “violence”. That is why “ 168 hours” asked the ministry whether they believed it is normal to put child rape on the same level with “ causing pain or suffering without damaging the child’s health.”? Isn’t it normal to treat and punish different kinds of crimes differently, depending on the degree of their cruelty and severity? In this new law the crimes seem to be treated and punished equally regardless of their severity. That includes “crimes” such as pulling somebody by the arm and thus causing them pain, while no damage being done to their health.
Another interesting case would be an instance when a parent pulls their kid’s ear or slaps them on the bottom. Since they would also be causing pain without causing damage to their kid’s health. Members of the Jewish and Muslim communities would also be considered wrongdoers under this law, as they circumcise their male newborns.
In light of this, “168 hours” asked the ministry whether a parent who pulls their kid’s ears engaged in violence. And if not, wasn’t this text in the law supposed to be revised and more clearly defined. Our newspaper also asked the minister and his deputy if as kids they had never had their ears pulled. And, also if they themselves had never pulled their kids’ ears. Another intriguing question is whether the ministry’s team considers the possibility that someone may abuse the law by filming another person pulling their kid’s ear and arbitrarily reporting it to authorities as “child abuse”. “168 hours” did not receive answers to these questions.
Another worrisome aspect of this law is that a person can report such a “crime” anonymously. Meaning that anyone, including people who wish you harm can do that to you. Also, the phoneline for reporting is managed by an NGO rather than by the government.
Yet, the nastiest aspect of this law is that it allows for a child to be taken away either from school or from their home without a court order. In this way, even the most diligent parents would have to prove in court that the are not “camels”. There they will have to argue with the multidisciplinary team, which will be made up of NGO and private firm representatives. That is why “168 hour’s” request to the former social services minister, Biser Petkov, and his deputy , Zornitza Russinova was to answer a simple question. Whether they believed that the social services sector could end up in the same unfavorable state as the healthcare sector. Is it possible that at some point the privately contracted providers of social services will start acting dishonestly much like some doctors. The same doctors who have been earning profits of up to 50 000 levs a month by performing unnecessary and improper surgeries on unsuspecting patients which have caused harm.
The counterargument that the ministry has on this is that generally speaking, NGOs do not work for profit. The intent on profiting is supposed to be absent from the public healthcare sector as well, yet it very much exists. We asked the government what guarantees they had in place in the new law which will ensure that we learn from Norway’s mistakes on that matter and not overdo things. Just because this sort of laws have not been crafted in our country in the past, does not mean that we are immune from making the same legislative mistakes and adopting bad practices. That is especially true if we have private interests involved in the process. It is possible that certain NGOs and private firms will shamelessly pursue the fulfillment of their annual budgets.
Therefore, it would hardly come as a surprise that one of our questions to the ministry was whether there was any lobbying involved in this process. We have yet to receive an answer to this, while our invitation for an interview with them is still open.
Project of the National Group “Parents United for the Children”
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