Hope for Children with Disabilities in Ukraine

In June, I had the privilege of being part of a Mosaic team invited by the Ukrainian Ombudsman for Children’s Rights to conduct a needs assessment of children with disabilities in Ukraine.

In Ukraine, many children with disabilities are abandoned by their families to institutions. In the absence of any community-based support, therapy services or educational opportunities, families see the future of a child with a disability as bleak and hopeless. Doctors often advise parents to give their child up to the state and try to have another one.

When I walked into one of those institutions, it felt like a different kind of gulag, the Soviet system of prison camps. It keeps children and adults with disabilities locked away and hidden from society.

However, those we saw kept in an institution just outside of Kiev were imprisoned as much by poor attitudes and low expectations. Children in the “lying down rooms” were confined to cribs with almost no stimulation or social interaction. Young men with disabilities were crammed into a classroom just sitting and rocking.

Despite the difficulties, there are signs that Ukraine is starting to dismantle this system and move towards a brighter future. We had the opportunity to see a beautiful inclusive school, the first of it’s kind in Kiev, which had accessibility renovations done by the US European Command. We also saw a community-based rehabilitation center for children with physical disabilities that had good equipment and caring staff.

We met with passionate parent activists from the Ukrainian Autism Association and Down Syndrome Association. These nongovernmental organizations not only provide important community based early intervention services, but also create support networks among families to break down the feelings of isolation and stigma.

Our visit showed an incredible amount of need, but our visits to pilot community based programs and nongovernmental organizations showed us that, even in Ukraine, change is possible.

At the end of our visit we were able to present the Ombudsman of Children’s Rights with a situation analysis of barriers and opportunities for deinstitutionalization and recommendations for how they can move children and adults with disabilities out of institutions and into caring communities. It was an honor for Mosaic to share our century of experience working to support people with disabilities and protect their God given rights and dignity.

I look forward to all the possibilities ahead for people with disabilities in Ukraine.

To learn more about Mosaic’s International presence and programs, visit their website.

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