Conference Bulgaria

E2 – A multiplier event in Bulgaria
11 May 2018, 9.00–13.00 h, Information Center of the European Union in Sofia (124 Rakovski Str.)

The multiplier event in Bulgaria was held on 11 May – which according to the old Orthodox calendar is celebrated as the Day of Saints Cyril and Methodius who through their work influenced the cultural development of all Slavs and therefore 11th of May is traditionally associated with education and enlightenment.

The conference was Headed Empowerment College – An Educational Approach To Socio-Economic Recovery and was targeted at providers of social services for persons with disabilities and minority groups, incl. refugees, policy-makers from health and social sectors, helping professionals, families and relatives of persons with disabilities and persons with disabilities themselves.

Out of the 63 registered participants, who had been invited via personal emails and invitations, 55 participants attended the event: representatives of the social ministry, the National Center for Public Health and Analyses and the WHO Office in Bulgaria; the director of social services with Dolna Banya municipality; representatives of Concordia, Caritas Bulgaria, Cedar Foundation, Alliance for Regional and Civil Initiatives, Bulgarian Association for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities, family associations, the head of the National federation of Employers of Disabled Persons, clients of community mental health services, journalists, as well as the partners in the project and GIP-Sofia staff.

As the main purpose of the event was to introduce the Empowerment college concept to wider national and international audience, provoke reflection and initiate discussion for its implementation, the agenda was centred around presenting good practices and perspectives from the project countries (UK, Netherlands, Italy, Bulgaria). A WHO representative was invited to contribute to the discourse via the presentation of WHO Toolkit and the main findings for Bulgaria and some other European countries.

The event was opened by the Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Policy Rositsa Dimitrova who is in charge of social services for persons with disabilities. She presented Bulgaria’s latest pursuits related to the adoption and realisation of the National Long-Term Care Strategy. The deputy minister stated that with the support of the municipalities and the non-governmental sector, opportunities should be provided for the training of people with disabilities in employability skills through sheltered workshops, supported employment and social enterprises.

„All the institutions involved should have a role in the legislation regulating the right to employment of people with disabilities, especially people with intellectual disabilities and mental illness,“ said Deputy Minister Dimitrova. She recalled that the Action Plan 2018-2021 on the National Long-Term Care Strategy had already been approved. „We will be responsible for identifying a model of support for people with mental illness, intellectual disability, dementia and elderly people unable to live autonomously. This model will continue with the implementation of the National Long-Term Care Strategy by 2034, „she said.

The main target groups in the implementation of the Action Plan for the period 2018-2021 are people with mental illness. In partnership with the municipalities, 30 centers for care for people with mental disorders, 10 centers for social rehabilitation and integration for people with mental disorders and mentally retarded, 16 day centers for people with disabilities, including severe disabilities, are in the pipeline, the deputy minister reported, and went on to clarify that support was envisaged for people with disabilities through the services of personal and social assistant and home assistant. The new social services planned were to provide support for over 2140 persons with disabilities and their families and Mrs. Dimitrova acknowledged that social innovations, such as empowerment college, were in harmony with the government policy.

The contextual highlights of the presentation of Assoc. Prof. Dr. Mihail Okoliiski who talked on WHO Quality Rights Toolkit, were that, unlike the social system which strived for embracing human rights based approaches and innovation, the health system still lagged behind in terms of reform. They had not yet adopted the new national policy and the old one was not financed. It was still the mainstay of the biological tradition when it referred to addressing disabilities and vulnerabilities.

The event continued with the introduction of the Empowerment College model through the lens of Bulgarian national context and the experience of GIP-Sofia by Kalina Ivanova, psychologist, and Simeon Damyanov, peer supporter, from GIP-Sofia.

Then the conference continued with sharing experience related to empowerment of persons with vulnerabilities by the project partners:

  • Dr. Julie Repper from ImROC who delivered a presentation on the UK’s Recovery College model: principles, practices and perspectives for mainstreaming;
  • Dr. Harrie van Haaster from IGPB who talked on the history of Dutch users movement in psychiatry, the polder model (consensus decision-making and shared responsibility, based on the acclaimed Dutch version of consensus-based economic and social policy making in the 1980s and 1990s) and presented the friends’ houses;
  • Izabel Marin, Michele Sipala, Silvana Hvalic from Azienda Sanitaria Universitaria Integrata Di Trieste who told the audience about the popular community support model of Trieste and the latest pursuits related to humanising legislation.

The event inspired an emotional and fruitful discussion and the experts from the National Center for Public Health and Analyses suggested that it would be good to include information about models like the empowerment college in the syllabus of medical students in psychiatry because it was high time to “restart the psychiatric reform” in Bulgaria.

Out of all participants, 14 chose to share their feedback and all of the comments and notes were very positive, saying that the event was very useful, that it gave hope, inspiration, insight, access to new concepts.

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