The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child makes it clear that the best conditions for raising a child are provided by a family environment that offers an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding. The family “must be supported and protected in order to be able to perform its functions within the community”.
Since the establishment of the Karin Dom Center, one of the main principles in our work has been the partnership with parents. Our many years of experience prove that the interaction between the parents of children with special needs and the professionals working with their children is extremely important for their future successful development. From the very beginning, we held daily meetings and conversations with parents, advising them on various issues related to their children, their specific needs and rights.
In 1997 our first group of parents was formed, whose children received therapy at Karin Dom. The parents’ meetings with a psychologist also began. Over the years, these meetings became a parent support group, led by qualified psychologists – psychotherapists and social workers. In the group, parents can exchange information, ideas and experiences, find emotional and social support and receive advice on dealing with various life problems concerning the family, their role as parents and the behavior of their children, their involvement in community life.
The parent group has its regular biweekly meetings, and a monthly thematic talks with Karin Dom’s or external specialists. The topics are selected according to the parents’ wishes and interests. In 2000, Save the Children Fund organized in Varna one of the first trainings for parents for advocacy and fundraising, which included parent groups from Bulgaria /incl. from Karin Dom/ and the UK.
The cooperation with the parents gradually grew into a partnership for joint work and support of our activity. Over the years, we have relied on parents for charity events to raise funds, to promote our activity, to help in the garden. In the last two years, parents have been actively involved in the production of items for the Family Online Shop, whose income supports the therapy of children. They gladly join birthday celebrations and other festive events. Together with the parents we participated in conferences, seminars and trainings. Parents receive support and training from local and foreign specialists. They have always been interested and willingly join our trainings for innovative and effective therapeutic methods and approaches for working with children with various disabilities. Together we participate in the difficult process of inclusion of children with special needs in kindergartens and schools, hold meetings with representatives of the Municipality and other educational institutions.
Over the years, they became more confident and with the support of other active parents created the first parent NGOs in Varna: Joy for Our Children Foundation, for parents for children on the Autism Spectrum, for premature children, for children with Down syndrome, the Sunny House Daycare Center and others. These organizations successfully support many other parents in the difficult pathway to inclusion and acceptance of children and young people with special needs.
In 2012 with the help of donors and volunteers, the Parents’ Club was built – a cozy place for meetings where parents can communicate with each other, share and exchange ideas and advice. Over the years, ministers, deputies, ambassadors and representatives of European Union bodies have visited Karin Dom. The parents of our children also actively participate in these meetings and advocate for the right to a dignified and independent life for their children.
Together with parents, we work for advocacy and policy change for children at the local, regional and state levels. We were the first in the country to introduce and apply the family-centered approach to working with families, modeled on the Early Childhood Development Programs in Canada and the United States.
This approach is based on mutual respect and observance of family rights, informed choice and active participation in decision-making. Parents of children using services in Karin Dom have been our partners from the very beginning. With them we discuss their expectations for the child’s development, their hopes and worries. We listen to what they tell us and what they want for their child.
In this way, parents become active and empowered participants in the therapeutic process, and this helps them to make independent decisions about their child’s life and their own lives.
In letters to Mr. Ivan Stancioff, the management of Karin Dom and the team, parents thank for the professionalism, responsiveness and understanding, love for children and efforts to integrate them into society. Without the parents, without our good partnership, Karin Dom would not have been so successful and a model of good practice for the country and abroad. Our mission is to support the educational and social inclusion of children with special needs and their families through professional services, support and raising the level of public awareness to provide conditions for the full development of each child. To make every child smile, accepted and happy!
Photos: Karin Dom