Romania: Early Intervention for Children with Special Needs
Children at risk of being institutionalised
In the not too distant past, the Soviet-era instincts consigned the countries disabled children to the very worst of the notorious orphanages and boarding homes built by the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. These faceless and cruel institutions hid children away in barbarous conditions. They were often tied to their beds and left to cry themselves into a profound state of disturbance.
Sadly social attitudes toward physical and mental disability in Romania can still be negative. To this day children born with special needs can be discounted and shunned by their community.
The prevailing opinion is that disability is something you deal with by going to the doctor for tablets to control the condition. There is little recognition of the need for children to be stimulated and to interact with others.
Parents fear social stigma, often have a lack of understanding of their child’s needs and some live in poverty. They are given very little or no support in parenting children with disabilities. As a result children with special needs are vulnerable and at high risk of being put into state institutions.
Without specialist and individual therapy from an early age, mild to moderate disabilities become severe. After the age of five, children are less likely to respond to intervention.
Institutional state care further delays the development of children with special needs as often children develop associated disabilities. Children who develop in state institutions are not integrated into society. These children will often require long term nursing care, which ironically results in significantly higher social efforts and costs.
What we did to help:
"Miracle" is a word that is often heard at Sansa Mea. A special needs centre supported by Children on the Edge in a suburb of Iasi, in rural north-east Romania, Sansa Mea turns around the lives of children with severe disabilities.
Not only do the staff support the children, they also help parents learn the skills to care for their child. The centre encourages children with severe special needs to remain united with their families, as well as receive expert care and assistance. Without this specialist care and individual therapy from an early age, mild or moderate disabilities could become severe (after the age of five, children are less likely to respond to intervention).
Brightly lit and painted, the Sansa Mea centre combines a special needs facility with a kindergarten where disabled and able-bodied children mix together from an early age. As a result, their children are more likely to integrate into the community long term – and the community in turn learns to accept the child.
"You must never judge a growing child, especially one with a disability," says Dr Macovei who runs the Centre. "You don't know what that body will become; after all you don't judge a flower or a tree when it is a seedling do you?".
Dr Macovei has spent 12 years applying her philosophy: the importance of early intervention by professionals ranging from physiotherapists to psychologists to diminish, sometimes dramatically, the effects of disabilities on children between six months and three years of age. That is why the word "miracle" is used so often.