Making the case for an integrated Early Childhood system in Bulgaria

On the 12th of January 2023, the First Years First Priority (FYFP) campaign national coordinator in Bulgaria, took part in the largest roundtable discussion to-date on Bulgaria’s new approach to Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC). The topic of the meeting was a proposed new law to transfer the management of day-care services to the Ministry of Education.

Trendafil Meretev, Projects and Advocacy Manager, and advocacy expert at For Our Children Foundation spoke on behalf of the FYFP national campaign coalition. He argued that as Bulgaria currently has no Children’s Act, Strategy for the Child, or any strategic documents dedicated to early childhood development, “it is necessary to question whether children are actually prioritised in the Bulgarian social system — because it seems that they are not.” He added that any political discussions on the issue are usually reduced to administrative issues — such as jobs, remuneration of employees, and collective labour agreements — obscuring the needs of children and families.

During this roundtable, decision makers were urged to focus on developing a unified and integrated system for ECEC, covering the period from prenatal care to school — in line with a holistic Early Childhood Development (ECD) policy. A joint effort is necessary to build an improved and up to date ECEC system that is responsive to the needs of young children and their families.

Society requires a competent ECD workforce

The Bulgarian economy requires a competent ECD workforce for sustainable growth. However, this is not possible if outdated care systems are not reformed, as children are the most valuable capital and we must invest in them. In order to achieve these aims it is essential to start early because there is a proven correlation between access to ECEC services and success throughout the life course.

Managing a completely new system requires resource management, competencies and synchronization, but above all, hard work and courage. The question should not be which branch of government will be responsible for the new system, but how the Ministries of Healthcare, Education and Social Services will build a unified and integrated ECD system.

Managing daycare services and kindergartens within a unified system, in combination with a holistic and integrated ECD policy, will help to address numerous challenges, such as infant mortality, child poverty and social exclusion, school dropout, youth employment, an ageing workforce in ECEC services, and slow economic development.

Urgent reform is necessary

Urgent reform is necessary, and the sooner it is put into motion the better. The FYFP campaign coalition in Bulgaria has the necessary knowledge and expertise in the field but this on its own is not enough without the political will to make Bulgaria a place where children can have a happy childhood.

The roundtable was part of a series of meetings at the National Assembly on Early Childhood Development, Early Child Intervention, and adoption policies. There is hope that this will develop into a new cooperation between the government and the civic sector — which is crucial for laying a strong foundation for a unified legal and institutional ECD framework.