SUPPORTING FAMILIES TO CARE FOR CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES

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SUPPORTING FAMILIES TO CARE FOR CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES

When I was in college (some 20-plus years ago) I was greatly impacted by a story on a television news show about orphanages in Eastern Europe which housed multiple children with disabilities. It was heartbreaking to see how these children, some of whom had only mild and easily correctible impairments when they first entered the orphanage, were devastated by the compounded effects of institutionalization. With overburdened caregivers only able to provide the basic necessities for life, these children had no opportunity for adequate sensory stimulation, socialization, developmental play, etc. and, consequently, became much more severely impaired in their ability to function. At the time that I viewed that program I was preparing for a career in physical therapy and, later, as a practicing physical therapist, I had opportunity to work with a few children who had been adopted from orphanages in Eastern Europe and were exhibiting similar problems. Now that I am in Cambodia I am so grateful to be working with an organization which promotes family centered care and recognizes, along with the government of Cambodia, that institutionalization should be a placement of last resort for any child, including those with disabilities. Every child deserves a family and those who already face the challenges of having a disability need the care and support of a loving family at least as much as a typically developing child. 

Many people now recognize the fact that a large percentage of children living in orphanages are not truly orphans. This is very much the case in Cambodia. Their families have, for a variety of reasons, felt the need to relinquish them to an orphanage, often with the hope that their child would have better access to resources there than in their current home situation. Families who have a child with a disabling condition are particularly at risk for succumbing to this kind of pressure. The solution has to be the development of community based resources that can empower families to access what they need to be successful in raising their child with disabilities, while also managing all of the other demands of family life. The approach must be holistic and requires the cooperation and collaboration of multiple organizations if we are to successfully break away from a model in which these most vulnerable children are segregated from family and community, and often, for all practical purposes, imprisoned for life. This is not an easy task, but as one who has witnessed in the U.S. the move from an institutionalized model to family based care and has worked in some capacity within each context, I can attest that it is one which is clearly worth the effort. 

Our worldview ought to reflect the dignity of all people as having been created in the image of God and dearly loved by Him. We can help to model and encourage integration of people with disabilities into their communities, and supporting families to care for children with disabilities at home is a key part of empowering positive change in Cambodia through the love of Christ. Children in Families currently serves a number of children with disabilities and we are working on developing our capacity to broaden our outreach to many more of these precious children and families.    

SUPPORTING FAMILIES TO CARE FOR CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES