Somebody’s child: an exploration of the contribution made by Bulgarian grandmothers to the de-institutionalisation of disabled children

Cookson, Lindey (2018) Somebody’s child: an exploration of the contribution made by Bulgarian grandmothers to the de-institutionalisation of disabled children. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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The practice of placing children without parental care in large institutions has a long history as a global phenomenon. Since the 1950s a continuous stream of research has highlighted the harmful effects of institutional life on children’s development. Babies, young children, and children with impairments are recognised as being particularly vulnerable. Whilst other European countries have developed alternative care based around models of caregiving within ‘the family’, Bulgaria and other Central Eastern European countries have been slow to develop de-institutionalisation.

This thesis explores the role of local grandmothers (Babas) who are paid a small remuneration to provide one to one care for disabled children in a large institution in Bulgaria. Taking an ecological approach to children’s development, the study situates the child’s experience within the wider socio-political context which highlights how practices have been informed by dominant political and historical ideologies. The research applies a qualitative methodology, informed by the critical research traditions of Feminism and Disability Studies. Data was collected using semi structured interviews from Babas, Bulgarian professionals and British volunteers who have worked together in the institution and non-governmental organisations (NGO). In addition, documentation from one NGO was analysed.

Key findings show that the Babas offer an alternative caregiving experience for these children. The daily intimate encounters between the Babas and children transform the child's immediate crucible of development. They move from an isolated and stagnant space of organisational caregiving practices at odds with their needs and human rights, to an active space of intimate and responsive caregiving practices which promote development, resilience and agency. Overall the Baba offers the psychological investment in the child that is absent in the institution and offers support at a key transitional point.

In conclusion, the findings of this project are not presented as a definitive solution to the complex problem of the institutionalisation of children. However, it does propose that the Baba programme is a significant part of the transformative process for wider improvements in the provision of alternative care for these children. This supports the development of de-institutionalisation policies and strategies within Bulgaria and stresses the significance of developing and embedding interventions in meaningful ways within local communities and cultures.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: L500 Social Work
Department: Faculties > Health and Life Sciences > Social Work, Education and Community Wellbeing
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: Ellen Cole
Date Deposited: 23 May 2019 16:49
Last Modified: 31 Jul 2021 22:21

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