Better Life for Families with Children with Disabilities

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Until he was six years old Alex Tsyganyk, a fair-haired autistic boy with a gleaming smile, had never spent a single day in a kindergarten, which is a part of everyday routine for most of his peers in Ukraine. Unlike other children, he had to stay at home with his mom all the time. Alex is completely adored by his parents and his brother, who loves to play educational games with him. However, being confined to his home all the time increased his chances of being socially excluded when he grew up.

After Alex was diagnosed with autism, his mother Nelya had to leave her well paid job as a manager and gave all her energy and time to take care of her son. The family had to adjust to living on a much more modest budget, no longer able to afford many essential things like fruit and vegetables. Naturally, Nelya started to look for a solution that would both allow for a supportive environment for her child and enable her to develop professionally.

Highlights

  • 80 Day Care Centres serve over 1,500 people with disabilities of all ages
  • There are 164,200 children with disabilities in Ukraine, although almost 12% of them (19,000 persons) have most severe functional limitations and therefore cannot be admitted to the Day Care Centres.
  • There are 2.6 million people with special needs in Ukraine, including children.
  • Over 3,000 children with disabilities in Ukraine retained in public internats.

Nelya learned about a special day care centre in Kyiv, which is like a specialized kindergarten for children with disabilities, where they can receive the qualified and specialized care that a regular kindergarten cannot provide. At first, she was cautious about the facility due to prevailingly low public trust towards social services in the country. She would not have tolerated the idea of Alex feeling unhappy or not treated well.

Within just a few days of Alex’s arrival in the kindergarten Nelya was pleasantly surprised to discover that all of her son’s new teachers were very warm, loving, and dedicated to providing the best care for children with special needs. They carefully monitor both the emotional and physical wellbeing of the children, ensuring that food, medicine, leisure activities, and outdoor walks are performed in time and in line with the standards. The children can also play with toys and developmental games, and socialize with each other.

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“I would have been the first to know if my son felt unhappy in the centre, as he is very open about his emotions in this regard,” his mother commented. “Every morning he looks forward to going to the day care centre to play with his friends and staff. I am so happy to see him growing socially, and I feel incredible gratitude towards the people working in the Centre.”

“We try to give all of our attention to our kids”, said Nadezhda, Head of the Day Care Department in Kyiv. “Most of them need special help with eating or dressing, and many need a nurse to be taken outdoors, as they are in a wheelchair. Of course, these children also need daily physical therapeutic and rehabilitation treatments, like massage or speech therapy or psychological guidance, which many day care facilities cannot provide due to the lack of funds or specialists willing to volunteer their time and skills on a regular basis”.

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Day Care Centres for children with disabilities have not existed in Ukraine before, although this practice is well-known and widespread in the world. This model was brought in by the UNDP project “Support to the Social Sector Reform in Ukraine” that worked with the Ministry of Social Policy in Ukraine to develop Standards for the Day Care Centres, which the Ministry approved in July 2013. Two months later, in October 2013, the Ministry adopted the Provisions on the Day Care Centres for Children with Disabilities giving a green light for opening such centres in Ukraine. 

 Today, 80 similar Day Care Centres are operating in Ukraine and serving over 1,500 people of all ages who are taken care of during the day. They are funded from local budgets and designed to serve a specific group of people, either children with disabilities, older people, or adults with invalidity.

“Before I learned about the Day Care Centre, I could not think about the possibility of returning  to the workplace, or just to plan my day with more ease of mind and flexibility of time,” continues Nelya, who can now work without feeling guilty or anxious about her son. “The Day Care Centre gives me the possibility of choice, which is such a luxury for parents who have children with disabilities, and I really appreciate this opportunity”.

There are 164,200 children with disabilities in Ukraine, although almost 12% of them (19,000 persons) have most severe functional limitations** and therefore cannot be admitted to the Day Care Centres. The total number of people with special needs in Ukraine, including children, amounts to 2.6 million people***, and the need for new Day Care Centres is clearly demonstrated in these numbers.

“We cannot accept all of the children with disabilities who apply as our capacity is limited to twenty people,’ continues Nadezhda. “Also, some parents who do not have a car or access to connecting public transport designed for transporting people with disabilities, have a difficulty bringing their children to the Centre. Unfortunately those children have to stay at home, lacking the opportunity for social interaction, which our Centre can certainly provide”.

Furthermore, there are still over 3,000 children with disabilities in Ukraine retained in public internats*. A large number of them could benefit from the model of Day Care Centres, where they would not need to be separated from their families, enjoying a more supportive living environment.

The good news is that raising awareness of such services may encourage local communities to advocate introducing new Day Care Centres in many other parts of Ukraine, following the social initiative announced by government in 2013.  

The UNDP in Ukraine is committed to continuing to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities and their families through expanding choices and introducing new social services for them.

* Statistics provided by the Ministry of Social Policy in Ukraine for end-2013

**, *** 2013 Annual Report of the Ministry of Social Policy in Ukraine