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Did you read the NEW Social Services Act?*

3 April 2019

In the beginning of 2019 was adopted a new social services act. Its philosophy changes the legal frame for planning, provision, financing and control over the social services. And not only does it do this. Its biggest purposes are the improvement of the access to social services and the efficiency of the fact that the social system is included to help. Will this happen? It is hard to answer at this point, because the law is the essential first step, but in order guarantees to be provided in what direction shall the system develop, there is a lot of preliminary work to be done – the particularities and details in the procedures to be developed (mostly people find it difficult to cope with the many administrative-bureaucratic obstacles), the act to be synchronized with many others legal acts (challenging, regarding  the group of people with disabilities, will be the creation of a coherent relation between this act, the Personal assistance Act and the People with Disabilities Act), all processes to be rationalized etc.

As of the current moment there are two main preconditions for success, which in case present in the processes that are about to happen, the chances for the system to become practically better, more effective and efficient will considerably increase.

The first precondition is that the process of drafting of the act lasted for long enough time (almost two years within the Executive authority), with a very well preliminary prepared road map (for the first time) how will the public consultations develop, many stages of public discussions (thematic discussions, public discussions on the concept of the act etc.) – all of this before the submission of the draft of the Act in the 44th Parliament. This process is a guarantee that the new provisions in the act are not a product of notions of different experts, but a result of discussions with the interested parties and by considering all points of view. The second important precondition is that the act is grounded on successful and good models. Pilot practices familiar in Bulgaria, with the ambition to make them national policy. Along with this it sets high standards – professional, for the quality of the social work itself and for the results for the human being. These are the preconditions that predict the alternation of the system for good.

It is not possible for us to list all the changes, that are supposed to happen, but we shall point the most important of them.

  1. The pillars of the new paradigm:
  • “Social support” is the leading term and the idea is a holistic mechanism for support through different instruments to be adopted – social services, integrated support etc.;
  • The individual approach to a human is highlighted as key characteristic for any support, including an explicit respecting the personal choice of the customer (art. 9, art. 87 and others);
  • The support delivered in the community is always first and key possibility to provide support (art. 1, para 2, art. 2, para 2, art. 100); In the Transitional and Concluding Provisions of the act there are two really important terms – final closure of all institutions for medical-social care for children to 2021 and of the homes for elder people with disabilities – to 2035;
  • Insurance of the exercising of the human rights as a purpose of the support (art. 3, para. 1, art. 4 and others);
  • Entirely new signs for differentiation between the service types: publically accessible and specialized, for people at risk and for people with disabilities, definition according to time of delivery, to the type of support, purpose etc.;
  • Introducing the term "integrated approach" that includes several levels for provision of complex and multisectoral support / reaction - through the joint case management of several social services, coordination mechanisms for reactions regulated at the legislative level, and through the possibility of two or more systems to work in a common way;
  • Disability is not recognized as a risk but as an own basis for support that complies with the standards of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (art. 14 and others).
  1. Practical dimensions or those things that will necessarily change
  • New quality standards and verification methods:

The new legal framework clearly states that only quality services shall be developed and funded. All (private) providers shall now be licensed, but even municipal services shall have the same high quality standards to be reached, and if that does not happen - funding shall be terminated. This change will also cause institutional reform - a new agency will be set up under the authority of the MLSP - Quality of Social Services Agency. There is great ambition for the development of the social activity through the professional and career growth of social workers.

  • New concept of access, including through the municipalities

For a large part of the services, the directing shall be through the municipalities. This decentralization provides the basis for the development of the capacity of the municipalities to ensure, on one hand, easier and quicker access for people to support, but, on the other – a reason for better assessment of the needs, planning of the services and their strategic management, as well the best possible organization of local resources and potential. Part of the topic of better access is the new mechanism for planning services with the national map (so that no important services are left not included, the final purpose is for each region to have its "minimum package") around which the greatest debate shall emerge - both in terms of how it is planned, on what indicators, and of the funding (because the idea is that only what is on the map can be funded).

  • The deinstitutionalization policy shall continue in Bulgaria (which is a reason for a praise) and the delivery of social services makes an attempt to develop support based on the concept of human rights.

Except for the above mentioned legally stated terms for homes closure (which provides extraordinary guarantees for irreversibility of the process), some other important elements are introduced as the prohibition of accommodation of children younger than 3 years in a resident service. The satisfaction and protection of human rights is a purpose of the support. There are, however, some "unpleasant" constructs - such as, for example, there will be some "difficult children" who could not be raise otherwise than in a specialized services. Let's hope that all other mechanisms will work so well that these extreme options shall (almost) not be used.

Some existing concepts in other systems have been “challenged” - the law mentions new definitions for particular groups - for example, children in conflict with the law; it is stated that the consent of persons under guardianship shall always be taken into account etc. How other systems will "respond" in this context - we are yet to see.

As mentioned in the beginning of this text, the new legal provisions reflect some existing practices, project trials etc. The law now introduces them as a common rule of behavior. If the change does not happen now, it is difficult to think of anything else to provoke it’s happening.

* The purpose of this material is not to analyze the law, but to cause more people working on these issues to become acquainted with it and to be active during the development and discussion of the secondary legislation in order to ensure such an application of the law based on the capacity of the resources and the potential of interested parties.