Maja’s story: From residential institution to thriving at home in Serbia

In the Central and Eastern Europe region, children with visual impairments and multiple disabilities are 47 times more likely to be put in institutional care than children without disabilities.

Child stands in between her parents, they are sitting down near her.

In the Central and Eastern Europe region, children with visual impairments and multiple disabilities are 47 times more likely to be put in institutional care than children without disabilities.  At Perkins International, we seek to prevent institutionalization, establishing and developing community based programs to support families of children with complex disabilities.

Here is the story of a child from Serbia, Maja, who experienced this profound transformation.

Maja, a toddler from Belgrade, Serbia, made some of her earliest memories in a residential institution.

Maja was born with complex needs that presented a great challenge to her family. They struggled to envision her future, her potential, how independent she will be and what quality of life she will have. Concerned and uncertain about how best to respond to Maja’s needs, they made the difficult decision to place her in an institution. 

They made their decision because of prevailing opinion in their social environment that institutions are a better place for children with complex needs and that professionals are more competent than parents.  After the placement, the parents have maintained daily contact with Maja and have been active in monitoring her needs and development in a very devoted and loving manner.

Building parents’ confidence

Maja wasn’t on the path of learning and thriving until she was enrolled in “Impuls” Center for Early Development, where she started working with Perkins-trained staff.

The professionals there used her curiosity in the world to teach her mutual attention and interaction in activities. 

They specifically focused on empowering parents and enhancing their capacity and skills to support the development of their child. 

“Impuls” is a new community based program developed through the process of deinstitutionalization of the Center for Care of Infants, Children and Youth. Perkins International worked with “Impuls” to train staff in education techniques for children with disabilities and visual impairments. Together, “Impuls” and Perkins created quality day care for preschool children with complex needs and their families in Serbia.  

Learning begins for Maja

After a year and a half in institutional care, Maja has reunited with her family. She is attending “Impuls” regularly where Perkins-trained staff provides daily activities in the center and home visits after family reunification. 

During lunch time Maja can hold her spoon and use it to eat and to choose her favorite food. 

Parents have learned to think from a positive perspective, they recognize Maja’s potential and know how to stimulate her further progress and learning.

In order to prevent institutionalization and support the process of deinstitutionalization Perkins International provides support in establishing and developing community based programs like “Impuls” in Serbia. At the same time Perkins International supports the transformation of existing institutional settings into community-based programs by using their resources to create more adequate educational programs.

Meet Maja and the Perkins International teachers who helped her in the Europe and Eurasia region.

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