The International Social Service Bulgaria Foundation (ISS-Bulgaria) was established on December 19th, 2002 as a non-for-profit legal entity initiated by the International Social Service-Switzerland to serve as the implementation body for the Bulgarian-Swiss Intergovernmental Project CLIP (Care Leavers Integration Program). The project pilot phase was launched in January 2003 and ended in November 2003 when the project implementation kicked off formally with the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Governments of Bulgaria and Switzerland. The project ended on October 31st, 2007.
In parallel with the implementation of that project, ISS-Bulgaria started operating as a correspondent in the network of the International Social Service (one of the oldest international organizations established back in 1924 in Switzerland). The first international cases handled by ISS-Bulgaria were initiated on the basis of requests for assistance submitted by constituents of the ISS network in EU Member States and were mainly about children victims of trafficking. Later, the Bulgarian State through its institutions, i.e. Child Protection Departments, courts, the Social Assistance Agency (SAA), the State Agency for Child Protection (SACP) and others, also sought ISS’s assistance in relation to controversial family situations and protection of children in cross-border situations.
In 2005, ISS-Bulgaria started specializing as a social service provider for children and families through its participation in a project entitled Service Delivery in the Social Services Center for Children and Families in the Municipality of Targovishte, final phase of the project entitled Child Welfare Reform. As of January 2016, ISS-Bulgaria manages 17 social services (counselling and resident services) delivered to a variety of target groups in seven Bulgarian municipalities: Veliko Tarnovo, Targovishte, Sevlievo, Smolyan, Sofia, Pleven and Kotel. In its capacity as the provider of those services, ISS- Bulgaria has over 160 employees.
In 2005, ISS Bulgaria financed the first “Roadshow” for judges and social workers initiated by judge Nick Crichton and guardian Gill Timmis and has ever since accumulated experience and expertise in civil justice for children, including through submission of social reports to Bulgarian courts from abroad.
Since its establishment, ISS-Bulgaria has completed over 25 projects mainly in the area of developing and delivering social services for children and families and juvenile justice and has achieved significant results:
- For the first time in Bulgaria, a concept was developed to capture adolescents over the age of 15 who are about to leave the institutions and to prepare them for leaving and then leading an independent life. A Protected living space was introduced in children’s institutions as a place where those adolescents can prepare for an independent life. This practice was then introduced into the Implementing Regulation to the Bulgarian Social Assistance Act as a special type of service called Transitory home.
- Another novelty for Bulgaria was the introduction of a new social service in the municipalities of Sevlievo, Veliko Tarnovo and Lovech for adolescents who leave the institutions. It is a transitory form of professional assistance and accompaniment to facilitate successful social integration. This practice was then introduced into the Implementing Regulation to the Bulgarian Social Assistance Act as a special type of service called Monitored home.
- In 2005–2006, new types of social services for children and families were successfully introduced in the Social Services Center in Targovishte, i.e. prevention of child abandonment and placement in institutions, prevention of school drop-outs, delinquency and violence and reintegration in a family environment, adoption services and foster care. Between 2007 and 2011, ISS Bulgaria supported the development of such services in the municipalities of Lyaskovets, Veliko Tarnovo, Dryanovo, Smolyan, Zlatograd, Rudozem, Dospat and Devin.
- Between 2005 and 2010, as part of the Roadshow initiative for judges and social workers, ISS-Bulgaria organized training seminars for over 800 participants (judges, social workers and other professionals) on how to apply the Child’s Best Interest principle in administrative and court proceedings affecting the child’s rights and interests.
- In 2006, ISS Bulgaria set up the first Crisis Center for Children Victims of Trafficking in Bulgaria. The organization developed and delivered services to children who being unaccompanied minors and/or victims of trafficking were returned to Bulgaria. The crisis center operated between August 1st and December 31st, 2006.
- Between 2012 and 2015, ISS Bulgaria developed and piloted child-friendly justice standards in the area of juvenile civil justice in 18 circuit courts in Bulgaria. This initiative involved the adaptation of 4 court rooms and 6 hearing rooms for children in courts where conditions were made appropriate for court hearings involving children. Three innovative services were tested for the first time in Burgas, Veliko Tarnovo and Blagoevgrad. They are designed to support the child and his/her parents before, during and after court proceedings. Those services are called Information Program for Parents, Contact Center for Children and Parents and Parenting Plan.