Local Service Delivery – Bulgaria

The Bulgarian government wanted to decrease the number of people placed in specialized institutions, acknowledging that most were in poor condition and without a mechanism to ensure that minimum standards of quality care. The amended Social Assistance Act of 1998 in 2003 provided for different types of social services at the local level. However, most local governments lacked the necessary financial resources, and they lacked experience in the provision of social assistance or services. With this in mind, amendments to the Social Assistance Act (2003) also opened the door to non-state organizations to provide social services in communities.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy approached UNDP Bulgaria in 2002 with a solution to the specialized care and labour problems in the country—train the unemployed in the vulnerable age group of over 50 as social assistants, who could then provide social services to the elderly, people with permanent disabilities and children with disabilities in their own homes. The main goal of the project was to contribute to the development of a long term national policy that would ensure the transition from institutional social care to sustainable community-based social services. Qualitative and quantitative indicators were identified for the annual assessment of the work of the NGO providers, carried out by the Joint Commission, which brought together the unique perspective, experience and expertise of each local agency.

In 2004, the project provided work for 758 social assistants, who were meeting the social needs of 1,898 elderly people and people living with disabilities in 154 towns and villages in 12 municipalities. By 2007, those numbers were 700 social assistants for 2, 037 people in 161 towns and villages. Changes were observed in the attitudes of those benefiting from the home care. They came to understand that they had the right to social services. They learned that the care they received should meet their actual needs, and that if it does not, they have the right to search for other services. To date, 7,346 people have access to community-level care, provided by 3,304 assistants. Because of the success, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy is now applying the model in all 264 municipalities in Bulgaria under the supervision of the National Programme Assistant for People with Disabilities.

The project contributed to the government’s overall efforts to boost employment, and helped to employ members of a particularly vulnerable group at a particularly difficult time, and equipped them with marketable skills. More than that, however, the project contributed to the development of a system of providing community care for those most in need—across the whole country, and made a positive difference in people’s lives. “People get used to what is good and want this service and expect us to find a solution. We cannot afford to do without it,’ said a Deputy Mayor.