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On both sides of the system…

19 April 2022

“I called the Child Protection Department and instead of asking to discuss yet another case, I told them that I wanted to be their case”

Hello! My name is I. For the past 14 years, my life has been part of the system, the social system.


In 2008, I joined the ranks of people working for deinstitutionalisation and finding alternatives to homes for children deprived of parental care. 


It all started like a dream. I went for an interview and was approved to join the Regional Foster Care Team. After much training and mentoring, I began to do background checks, assess, train and support foster parents. It wasn’t long before I started placing children in foster families. I was trying to prepare them for their leap into the unknown. I was trying to support them as they faced their new reality. I was trying to do something about their lost identity. I supported the process of transition of children from one place to another, thinking that it was better for them.


I must admit that at times it went just fine, and at others the efforts, mine and those of the team I was in, were in vain.


Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the need for deinstitutionalisation. I am convinced that children should not stay in institutions. I am sure that there is nothing better for a child than to grown up in an environment that is close to a family. I am aware that if the child cannot be with the birth parents, it’s much better to live in a foster family or with adoptive parents.   


Still, I can assure you that when more than 14 years ago we started moving children from institutions and placing them in families, we weren’t ready for all the obstacles we’d have to face. We had to fight many battles with directors of institutions. We had to face the prejudices of certain parts of society. We struggled to come to terms with the scepticism of some social workers. We were trying to “set up” the right foster families and to place the child who would feel best in them.


Today, 14 years later, I can still remember names, faces, stories of children who were part of the institutional system and were moved into the foster care system.


Some times we were successful, at others we failed. I think that the system wasn’t prepared for all extra issues and details that arose from deinstitutionalisation. We worked piecemeal. It was hard to find someone to give adequate support to the birth family, and so children were doomed to long wonderings from one foster family to another or to adoptions far away from their family and country.    


It was around this time that I joined the Regional Adoption Council. I started working on a training programme for prospective adopters. I talked to my colleagues who worked with prospective adopters and adoptive parents.   


Now I knew what it was like being in the shoes of the foster parent, the foster child, the prospective adopter, and the professional working with them. Or so I thought.


And then…

Hello, my name is I. Two years ago, my family and I adopted a wonderful child, a girl who will soon be four years old.


For many years, I was on one side of the system, but I’ve known from a very young age that one day I’d be as I am now – an adoptive parent. My desire to help and my ability to step in other people’s shoes had been preparing me in recent years, until the moment would come when my whole family is mature enough to make the first step towards the social system. I knew that one day I’d be either a foster parent or an adoptive parent. The signs were very clear!


The day when my wife and I said to each other that we were now ready to cross over to the other side of the social system, I knew the practical aspects of what was in store for me. I knew all of the steps; I could maybe quote them by heart. I knew all of the social workers who were in charge of prospective adoptive parents.


I had to humble myself and realise that I wasn’t there as a professional, one who used to be part of the Adoption Council, a trainer and a psychologist, but as a regular prospective adopter. I called the Child Protection Department and instead of asking to discuss yet another case, I told them that I wanted to be their case.


They gave me the document checklist. For about three days we visited different institutions and collected all that was necessary. We joined the training programme; however not as a trainer, a role I really love, but a trainee trying to help the other candidates. We did the interviews – they were detailed and curious. They visited our home and spoke to our son and our referees. In reality, I knew what lay ahead. I was prepared. I knew the steps by heart.  


Emotionally, I was filled with intense anticipation. We had spent twelve years preparing and getting ready, little by little, for this step to the other side of the social system. We had prepared all of our closest people. We had talked to our five-year-old son. We had picked up pictures to show to our future child to be prepared for this life change. I thought of a fairy tale to use in contact with the child. It was about a dove (the child) going into a bear family (ourselves). We were approved and we started waiting for the call.


And so we waited for two years.  


It’s a long story, but we were prepared to take care of any child regardless of gender, ethnicity… We were ready to travel to the other end of the country… We only wanted the child to be smaller than our son. I knew that this was better for the family system since I was also on the other side of the social system.


After two years, we finally got the call. I was at work. We were discussing a case with a colleague. When an unknown voice called from a number I didn’t recognise and said that there was a child for us, I was about to collapse. I almost fell on the floor and I was crying with joy.


I thought the hardest thing would be to say “yes” about the child, but it turned out that in the next one and a half months we’d face many obstacles, required by the system or caught up into it. We tried to cooperate with social services, social workers, foster parents, doctors, hospitals. We did our best to spend more time with the child and to give our son the chance to get to know the new member of our family. Many long trips. Many questions. Few answers.


Finally, the day before the entire country was locked down because of the pandemic, we celebrated our first Stork Day. Our girl had come into our home. And so I stood on both sides of the system. On the one side, I was a professional with many years of experience in deinstitutionalisation, an on the other, I was a case of the same system, as an adoptive parent.

Code Participation Foundation implements project “Participation, Advising, Collaboration, Trust” aiming to support a group of active parents and young people with lived experience of care in Bulgaria – “Expert Friends” of Tanya’s Dream Fund, by developing their self-advocacy and leadership skills.