Day-care Center for Youth: alternatives to street life

Project location: BULGARIA
Project start date: July 2006 - Project end date: July 2009
Project number: 2006-10
Beneficiary: The Alliance for Children and Youth

The Nando Peretti Foundation financed a project in Bulgaria that aims at improving the general life conditions of street children and youth in Bulgaria, as outlined in the project description below by Alliance for Children and Youth.

The Bulgarian Red Cross and the Municipality of Sofia are the other two organizations, founding members of the Alliance, which have a long-term commitment to help overcome the difficult circumstances in which our target group lives.

The Alliance for Children and Youth is a partner of the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, the State Agency for Child Protection, to name only the most important ones. Together with these institutions and other agencies involved we will be able to place a real and working mechanism for life skills education of young unemployed and homeless people and multiply our experience throughout the country.

The 16+ Youth Day Care Center is operational since 1999 and is an established agency, whose team implements a variety of services and programs to meet the needs of the street youth not only from Sofia but from the whole country.


The 16+ Youth Day-Care Center is the first and the only one in Bulgaria, which addresses the problems the especially vulnerable group of street and unemployed youth aged 16 to 25 faces - exclusion from social networks providing vital services such as health care, education, social protection, vocational training and access to the labor market, housing, legal protection of basic human rights. The social isolation of those young people, combined with negative public attitudes they often face (about 95 % are of Roma origin), are the main impediment for their social integration. The social protection system of the country is still unprepared to resolve these problems.

The longer-term goal of the programs and activities of the 16+ Youth Day Care Center is to support and empower street youths to develop positive, permanent and sustainable attitudes and behavior to look for and to find decent opportunities for social integration. The protective environment of the Center provides the youth with an opportunity to develop new social skills and take up new roles as responsible citizens. Furthermore the project provides consultation and advocacy on a wide range of legal problems with the aim of giving the target group a clean start and helping them overcome the mistrust towards society as a whole.


The target group of the 16 + Youth Day Care Center are the homeless and unemployed youth, aged 16 to 25, living on the streets of Sofia. Since the establishment of the Center we have worked with more than 300 youth, the average monthly number of youth we work with is 85 - 110.


Herewith some basic statistical information based on our data system:

Gender: 60% are male and 40% - female;

Ethnic background: Roma - 95%, Bulgarian - 2%, other - 3%;

Family and social status: 35% are orphans or have only one parent, 15% have "inherited" the street way of life from their families, 35 of the young women are expecting or have given birth recently; about 70% come from very low-income families and are involved in petty crime, beggary, sexual exploitation, various forms of delinquent behaviour;

Health status: The most frequent health conditions among the target group are STDs (25 have undergone medical treatment), consequences of drug abuse (51 heroin users and 73 glue dependants), lung and liver diseases - tuberculosis (19 cases) and hepatitis (8 cases). Early pregnancy is typical, as well as numerous abortions.

Education: 40% of the youths have never attended school, 50% have completed elementary school, 10% have completed secondary school.

Employment: Most of the youths lack any type of vocational qualification and skills. Usually they work temporary and for a very low pay.

Legal issues: 90% of the youths are or have been subject to legal prosecution, 60% are prosecuted on two or more cases, 70% are being investigated as offenders, 15% are or have been held in the police facilities, 65% have served time in penitentiary facilities.


In the course of its work the 16+ Center identified other groups, very important for the efficiency of our work, who also benefit indirectly from our programs:

The children of the street youth - more than 40 for the time being. 35 % of the 16+ clients are parents of young children and often their requests for work are directly related to providing support for their children.

The families of the street youths - about 30. The 16+ team considers the families of the youths as a very important recourse for coping with the youths' circumstances.

In order to respond to the needs of this target group and to achieve the goals of the Center our activities will be split into three main dimensions, which will be implemented and improved during the three years of project duration:

Basing our work on the understanding of homelessness as a temporary crisis, the work of the 16+ team will be set on three main levels:


1. Work with children and youth in crisis

2. Work for support and maintenance of the achieved results

3. Programs for positive change and development


Level 1: Work with children and youth in crisis

At this level we will work with children and youth, who have suffered from abuse, loss, who have recently been released from penitentiary facilities. We will assist them through crisis intervention, psychological and social support. We will work individually in every case with the aim of overcoming the crisis and moving to the next two levels of intervention.

The methodology of work will contain a number of steps:

- Needs assessment - client's own vision of the problems and the ways to deal with it, their own evaluation of the situation and the personal resources they can use.

- Case evaluation - defining the problem, defining the recourses and the supporting environment, which will help us outline the specific tasks, deadlines, and obstacles that need to be overcome.

- Individual plan for development - this will cover all assessments performed so far, concrete and clear tasks, priorities, work plan and realistic evaluation criteria.

- Agreement - Agreeing the individual plan for development with the personal request of the youth, agreeing the goals and objectives to achieve success and building up partner relationship with the clients giving them a sense of empowerment and boosting motivation.

- Maintaining documentation and data for following the development of each case - one social worker will be responsible for this and will present the developments of the case at team meetings.


Level 2: Work for support and maintenance of the achieved results

This level will cover three main dimensions:

1. Outreach work. Outreach work will be focused on work on the streets and in the areas where the youth and their families live. The team will provide information on health problems, will educate on issues as drug use, safe sex, family planning and will use the partnership network of the Center for referral to adequate services and programs. Information will be also provided on the programs of the 16+ Center with the aim of attracting more youth to use our services.

2. 16+ Center services. Introducing the client to the activities of the Center, receiving their informed consent to work with us and joining the 16+ group. This will be followed by the case evaluation, needs assessment, and setting up an individual plan for development, which is to be maintained and improved together with the client. This group of clients will benefit from the entire spectrum of services provided at the centre. They will also use the referral scheme, according to their individual needs.

3. Distance work. We will work with clients of the center, who have gone back to streets life, have been held in penitentiary facilities, or have been sent to state-run boarding houses. The social workers will continue to work with them with the aim to provide counseling, psychological and social support and if needed - basics as clothing and hygiene materials.

Level 3: Programs for positive change and development

At this level we will involve the youths in programs for positive development in order to maintain the results achieved so far. Our experience shows that the following programs have a particularly positive and sustainable effect on the youths:

1. Youth Committee. This program will provides possibilities for active participation of the youths in the managing of the Center, setting realistic goals, giving motivation and empowerment, giving a sense of ownership of the results achieved. The Youth Committee has proved to be a very efficient approach for improving the performance of the Center and implementing more useful activities, sensitive to youth's needs.

2. Social skills training. Basic communication skills, assertive behavior, job finding, etc. Through the methods of group and individual work, the clients will acquire the necessary skills to adequately respond to social requirements and ease their social inclusion.

3. Group for supporting young mothers and pregnant women. The young women will be educated and trained in basic skills of care for their infants and health care during and after pregnancy. They will get together once a week, facilitated by a psychologist and a social worker. They will discuss issues, related to parenting, family planning, safe sex, baby care and all other relevant issues.

4. Development of vocational skills such as Gardening, Cookery, Pottery and Sewing. This program envisions youth participation in various activities of interest, related to the youth's plan for personal development together and with the assistance of students from art schools and universities. Such kind of activities have proved to be very popular and have allowed the youths an outlet for artistic freedom and a chance to ‘decompress'. Given the low literacy level of our group, the vocational skills training will be very practice-oriented so that the youth can acquire practical knowledge that will help them get a job and contribute to their personal development and re-socialization. More importantly this will restore their basic motivation and working habits and will increase their chances on the labor market. The program will be realized with the outside assistance of specialists who will facilitate specific workshops.

5. Human and citizen rights. Very often the youth from the 16+ target group break the rules of society. For this reason we consider it very important to perform in-depth and consistent legal work with our clients. Law students and assistants will help and consult the 16+ team in the issuing of various documents, legal defense and other legal problems. The youth will also get training in the basic laws of Bulgaria, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Bulgarian Child Protection Act, The Family Code and other related legislation.

6. Social-rehabilitation program. This program will include sport activities, basic computer skills training, music lessons, visiting theaters, cinemas, exhibitions and museums. This will allow the youths to improve their physical status, will help them build their self-esteem and again ease their social inclusion.

We have developed special programs for work with the children and the families of the street youth.

Children of the street and unemployed youths, aged 0 to 5. we envision the creation of a space at the Center, where our clients' infants and young children can be assisted in developing their mental and physical status, through specialized equipment and trained professionals.


Families of the street and unemployed youths. Our work will be targeted to involving our clients' families in the efforts to support and provide better living circumstances for the young people. We will work in cooperation with the families through outreach work as well as at the Center.

The above detailed activities will be implemented by the team of the 16+ Center, by external professionals and volunteers. The 16+ team consists of professionals specialized in social work, psychology, pedagogic science. The permanent staff of the Center consists of: Director; Social workers - 4; Nurse - 1; Cleaner - 2; Security guard - 1; Maintenance - 1; Accountant - 1.

To achieve effective implementation of the various programs and activities, we will hire external experts and will involve volunteers.

Anticipated achievements or outcomes of the project

The expected achievements of the project are outlined below. They are based on the experience the team of the 16+ Center has accumulated over the years of its operation and on the expected developments in the work of the Center in the course of implementation of the project.


We will create adequate conditions and opportunities for increasing the motivation level for involvement in the Center's programs thus developing positive and lasting attitudes for an improved quality of life of our clients and their families - more than 250 people;

In 10 % of the cases we expect to be successful in diverting the youths from prostitution and to prevent cases of sexual abuse using the protective environment of the Center, involving them in programs for safe sex and prevention of STDs. In this respect the group of young mothers is particularly promising;

About 200 youths will be involved in the programs for development of vital life skills;

In 50 % of the cases our programs for motivation of the youth to find a longer-term job will be successful and about half of them will succeed in keeping their job, thus preventing them from involvement in drug dealing and petty crime;

The 35 young mothers and their partners will be the core group who will benefit from the programs for development of parental skills, family life and planning. These programs will also influence positively the rest of the 16+ clients, decreasing the number of unplanned pregnancy and birth, child abandonment and neglect;

About 200 youths will have equal access to consultations and medical help, which will improve the quality of their life;

All our clients and their families will have the opportunity to use competent and professional legal consultation and protection;

All of our clients will have the possibility to access social services provided by state and municipal agencies, 25 % will be enrolled in vocational training courses and 10 % will successfully complete a higher mainstream educational degree;

In 10 cases we expect to be successful in finding housing through our partnership relations with municipal agencies;

About 200 youths will participate in the various programs and activities of the Center, which will improve their chances for reintegration and will give them self-confidence as equal members of society;

We will further develop and improve our partnership network and will promote the working models of the 16+.

Establishing good working relationships with all state and municipal agencies involved in youth care;

Promotion of social awareness on the problems of street and unemployed youth, attracting public attention on the problems and promoting acceptance and social support;

Providing alternatives to street life and delinquent behavior.

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