*The following is the speech Sreyny Sorn, manager of the ABLE Project at Children in Families, gave at a side event at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on 5 March, 2019. The event was titled “Promoting Quality Family and Community-Based Care for Children with Disabilities.”*
One of the agencies helping to organise this event is the Better Care Network. The Better Care Network (BCN) is an interagency network committed to facilitating global information exchange and collaboration among organizations and other actors working on the issue of children without adequate family care. BCN has an ongoing relationship with CIF and nominated Srey Ny to speak after recognizing how the work of the ABLE program aligned with the focus of this event.
Good afternoon. My name is Sreyny Sorn, and I am from Children in Families, in Cambodia.
Children In Families is an organization which supports family-based alternative care for children who have been orphaned or abandoned by their families. We developed the ABLE Project because we believe in the fundamental right of all children to be part of a family and a community.
That includes children with disabilities.
There will always be some children who cannot remain in their birth families. We know that the next best option is family-based alternative care. Unfortunately, many organizations who support kinship care and foster care say that they are not equipped to support children who have disabilities. Or they cannot find suitable families who are willing to care for a child with disabilities.
“It is wrong for children with disabilities to be excluded from family-based alternative care only because services are not available. It is discrimination, and a violation of children’s rights.”– Sreyny Sorn, Project Manager of ABLE
The ABLE Project allows children with disabilities to be placed in CIF’s kinship and foster care projects, just like all other children. It equips and supports families to provide for the special needs of these children, so that they do not grow up in institutions. And so that they can be a part of their communities.
People with disabilities often face barriers which prevent them from participating in their communities. The ABLE project helps remove these barriers by making family-based alternative care more inclusive.
Community attitudes can be one of the biggest barriers to inclusion for people with disabilities. When communities do not understand disability, they are less inclusive. That can make it seem impossible to recruit a family willing to foster a child with disabilities – especially one who is not related to them. But even kinship care can be more difficult in communities that do not understand disability.
So what do we do?
In any community there are people who think differently – people who have had different experiences, which make them more willing to take on the challenge of caring for a child with disabilities. When we support these people to care for children with disabilities, they become community advocates.
We have seen communities become more open to people with disabilities, because of families like this. And we have seen other families offer to do the same.
“What we have learned from our experience is that we don’t need to look for inclusive communities, We just need to look for inclusive families who can begin making their community more inclusive.”
Recruiting families is just the first step.
It can be rewarding to care for a child with disabilities. But it is also difficult. Even in countries with a lot of resources, caring for children with disabilities without external support leads to high levels of family stress. So just finding willing families is not enough.
We have to follow up by providing holistic support, meeting not only the needs of the child, but the needs of the whole family. More than that, we need to be sure not only that the child is included in the life of the family,
but also that the family – with the child – is included in the life of the community.
A family cannot support a child if they have to withdraw from the community to do it. Supporting the family to participate in normal community activities is not only good for the emotional well-being of the family. It also enables full inclusion for the child. It lets communities see families with children who have disabilities, and learn from them.
So, how do we make family-based alternative care for children with disabilities both realistic and sustainable? We have to recognize and address the kind of supports that will aid in family and child inclusion. To do this, we have to get to know our families.
We have to build trust, and our staff have to show empathy. We need to hear, and anticipate, the family’s needs. We need to work with other stakeholders in the community. And we need to be ready to advocate for inclusion when the time comes.
And how do we actually do all this in the ABLE project?
In the ABLE project, we provide in-home therapy services to help each child achieve their potential in all developmental areas. We help children access mobility aids, or other adaptive equipment.
We accompany families to medical visits, so they can understand their child’s condition and treatment. And support them in following doctors’ recommendations.
We work with inclusive education programs so children can access educational services.
We provide respite care to give families a break from care giving.
We also provide higher stipends to foster families to help with the increased costs of care.
We try to consider everything the child and family needs to be able to do to engage in their normal community activities.
To date, CIF has been able to support more than 50 children through the ABLE project, toward achieving full inclusion in family-based care and community life. It is possible to include children with disabilities in family-based alternative care. We know it. Many of you know it. Let’s keep working toward it.
My name is Sreyny Sorn, from Cambodia. Thank you for your time today.