Bulgaria is the poorest country in the European Union (EU), with more than one-third of children living at risk of poverty (over 570.000 according to Eurostat, 2018). The country also has the second-highest infant mortality in the EU, with the probability of a child dying between birth and five years of age 70% higher than the EU average (Eurostat, 2020). Over the past few years, early childhood development (ECD) has received the government’s increased attention with important progress made in delivering ECD policies and supporting families with young children by bringing together the Ministry of Education and Science, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, and the Social Assistance Agency. However, ECD policies and services are still fragmented. Better mechanisms are needed for effective coordination, both at the national and local levels. A specific, comprehensive, cross-sectoral ECD strategy has not yet been developed. At present, there is no formal policy guaranteeing a minimum level of funding for ECD services to ensure sustainability. The new Law on Social Services has been in force since July 2020, which regulates the planning and implementation of services of an integrated nature, including for young children, but is still in the early stages of its implementation.
o Track data on child poverty and social exclusion especially for families with children under three years of age, with low level of education, and from vulnerable backgrounds.
o Ensure equal access to prenatal care for all pregnant women and home visiting services for children under three years of age and pregnant women.
o Provide free medication for children under three years of age living in poverty, with the prospect of covering all children up to six years of age.
o Increase the access rate to early childhood education and care (ECEC) services.
o Invest across sectors in the professionalisation of the staff working in services for young children.
o Improve the system for registering and analysing data on cases of violence against young children to inform measures and actions.
o Allocate one percent of GDP to quality ECEC.
o Augment social benefits for families with young children, including adequate financial support for poor families caring for children, with a focus on children up to one year of age.
For more information about the European campaign First years-first priority, visit https://firstyearsfirstpriority.eu.