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Opening doors to rehabilitation for children with special needs in Stefan Voda

Opening doors to rehabilitation for children with special needs in Stefan Voda

Dimitru is six. At birth, he was diagnosed with Down syndrome. He started physical therapy at the age of one, being the youngest in his hospital group. Now he needs more and more development therapies, such as speech therapy, socialisation and emotional support, occupational therapy, which his mother Iulia is keen to engage him into. Iulia and her son live in a small village of Slobozia, 10 km away from the city of Stefan Voda which houses rehabilitation facilities for children with special needs. And every time, a bus trip to the city and back is a tough call for both.

The association PRODOCS has decided to help Dimitru and dozens of other children with special needs from Stefan Vodă and its district to have a better access to social services. In 2021 it initiated a collaboration with the local authority – the General Directorate of Social Assistance and Family Protection – and the Temporary Placement and Specialised Assistance Centre “Trust”. At that time the Centre provided only medical services to children with disabilities, such as massage, physical therapy and speech therapy, though it had the necessary conditions and the potential to expand its services. “Using the EU support received via the Soros Moldova Foundation, we have decided to introduce social services to the Centre “Trust” and to extend them to the villages up to 20 km outside Stefan Voda,” – explains Cristina Cușchevici, the project manager.

The immediate achievement of the project was the purchase of a minibus equipped with a wheelchair lift to transport kids from 19 surrounding communities to the centre free of charge. “Before we used to come by bus and had to wait at the bus stop for hours,” – says Iulia. “I’m glad that the mobile team has reached our village. Thanks to them, we have a regular access to the Centre’s services.”

Growing capacities of the “Trust” centre continued with the introduction of the social services. Psychological and pedagogical support, play therapy, art therapy, occupational therapy, communication groups were new activities to the medical centre, which had to be worked through at many levels. The association PRODOCS facilitated the development of the internal documents to ensure that the provision of the social services meets the Minimum Quality Standards. The EU funding also helped to equip the rooms for physical occupational and speech therapies, the space for socialization activities and a mini toy library. 

In parallel to these activities, PRODOCS launched socialization and life skills development activities for children with special needs. “We have introduced a 3-month programme which would engage a child, taking into account its capacity and health, into various activities, such as ergotherapy, ludo therapy, art therapy, role play, and keep him or her in the centre beyond a mere physiotherapy,” – says the project manager, pinpointing: “These children often remain isolated at home, whereas here they get the opportunity to socialize and interact with each other.”

Renat is 8. At the age of three he was diagnosed with severe autism. He started to speak late and has difficulties in communication. “We used to come to the Centre for physiotherapy,” – shares Eugenia, his mother. “But now he also visits the psychologist, the social pedagogue, and other pedagogues who help him to communicate with others. And I see that Renat is making progress. At home, he tends to be more impatient, but here he is engaged with new things, and his attention is more focused. He enjoys spending time with the staff, he is getting used to being around people.”

Carrying forward the project, the PRODOCS team however noticed that not only children required socialisation and support. Their parents, often left in their own world of problems and concerns, needed a space for exchange and confrontation with others. So, the association organised group for them therapy sessions and individual psychological counselling. And group sessions with various specialists – a psychologist, a psychotherapist, a pedagogue and a specialist working with the disabled persons – taught parents how to best support and interact with their children.

The development of new services also required additional knowledge and skill from the specialists of the Centre “Trust” and of the Social Assistance Directorate. The trainings and mentoring sessions, organised with involvement of various experts, added a new socio-pedagogical component to the work of the staff and offered various methods and techniques of working with children with special needs. Lina Stepanov, the psychologist, recalls: “In my practice, I had cases when children with autism had certain behavioural crises, for example, throwing themselves on the floor. I had to convince them gently, but I didn’t know how. In one of the trainings a specialist from the association “SOS Autism” advised us to turn our backs to the child and stay silent. And it worked! Such methods cannot be discovered on your own, they can only be shared by other specialists.”

The overall results of the project are quite impressive. The number of children with special needs benefitting from the Centre’s services has grown three times: from 36 in 2021 to 128 in the course of project implementation. And a year and a half after its end, the numbers remain equally high, demonstrating also a considerable improvement in communication and socialization skills within half of the children. “I see the commitment of the public authorities to maintain and develop the services of the Centre, for example, in expanding the programme of the children’s engagement from 3 months up to one year to ensure a better progress. This is a big achievement” – confirms Cristina.

The association PRODOCS has become a driver of change for children rehabilitation in Stefan Voda. It has attracted the initial funding required to kick off the improvement of social services which encouraged the public authorities to invest further. Just as significant was the role of the association in connecting the Centre “Trust” to a network of stakeholders, both public authorities and civil society organisations, which enhanced the potential of the Centre and ensured its success in the future.

Author: Volha Prokharava