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Why community support is vital in keeping families together

Institutionalization of children with disabilities is a global human rights issue. Discover how Perkins is keeping families together.

In a classroom, a large group of parents with their children circle around a teacher who is showing the group correct mobility practices. Some mothers have their phones out to film the lesson.

Every day, around the world, children with disabilities are separated from their families. 

In Indonesia, children with disabilities make up the invisible majority in institutions. Those with multiple disabilities are up to three times more likely to be placed in institutions, and grow up away from their families. 

Perkins is changing this narrative.

Without access to community support services, parents are left with few options. And while institutions may meet their basic needs, children often live in isolation without learning opportunities. 

Global research has shown that children develop best with supportive relationships in a safe, nurturing environment. That‘s why it’s Perkins‘ goal to develop community-based solutions that can help keep families together. In our experience, supporting families means supporting children. 

Meet Adiel and Rahel

Adiel sits in the special walker that his father adapted for him to safely move about.
Rahel cuts vegetables for an omelet.

Adiel and encouraging family participation

Adiel is a 12-year-old boy living in Indonesia who loves to learn. Before his school, YPABK Muncar, partnered with Perkins, he didn’t like to go, and would often cry. 

With guidance from the Perkins-trained educators, Adiel‘s teacher, Ninik, discovered new ways to communicate with students, like using sign language. As a result, Adiel is excited to attend school and participate in activities.

At home, however, Adiel‘s family lacked the confidence to support his disability. Without regular stretches and exercise, Adiel’s disability could further limit his movement over time. 

Adiel is laid down on a mat by his mother. They are practicing mobility movement.
Adiel’s mother, Warsiyah, supports his hips while he practices standing.

Because of a workshop run by Perkins specialists, Adiel’s mother, Warsiyah, was introduced to the idea of learning through play. She learned safe ways to incorporate physical therapy activities into her son’s routine at home, allowing her to be more hands-on with Adiel. Her confidence grew with each new activity. 

Today, Warsiyah actively participates in the parent support group and proudly shares Adiel’s progress with other parents from the Perkins-run workshop. Adiel‘s father has also gotten more involved. He modified a walker for Adiel to move around independently.

Rahel and the magic of flashcards

Rahel is a shy, sweet 10-year-old girl with multiple disabilities. In her early years, she received physical therapy services through a local community outreach program, but because of the  COVID-19 pandemic Rahel and her grandmother were forced to go years without any support. 

We met Rahel when her local community outreach program began working with Perkins. At this point, Rahel had started 2nd grade at a small local school for children with disabilities, but rarely attended. Rahel‘s grandmother, who serves as Rahel’s caretaker, was worried that her granddaughter could not read, write, or do any math.

A playful assessment 

A Perkins specialist used flashcards to teach the staff at the community program how to make first interactions, or assessments, playful. By writing and drawing on flashcards, teachers and staff could make assessments fun for the child and help them find more opportunities for the child to learn. Rahel responded positively to this playful approach, and especially loved the flashcards!

Rahel smiles in front of flash cards of pictures and words
Rahel gives her teacher a high five across the table

After the assessment, the Perkins specialist and community program staff built lessons to help Rahel improve her coursework. Eventually, Rahel’s school teacher joined one of the sessions at the community center. As Rahel showcased her new skills, her teacher was eager to learn these strategies to continue her learning journey.

This interaction between Rahel’s school and community center evolved into a collaborative relationship, allowing more students like Rahel to gain access to a better education. The community center has recently introduced more services beyond physical therapy, and Rahel’s teacher has integrated more functional activities at the school, like making omelets.

Today, Rahel is a different kid. She attends school almost every day and can read short, simple words. She understands math, and even says, “I like addition but don’t like subtraction because it makes me have less.”

A “triangle of support” can help keep families together

Together with our partners in Indonesia, we‘re creating a child-focused system that keeps children with their families. What steps can we take to ensure families stay together?

The Perkins approach to keep children at home and unlock more opportunities for learning is to create a triangle of support:

  1. Enhance community day and school programs
  2. Transform orphanages from institutions to quality day programs
  3. Support parents and caretakers

Having a triangle of support means children like Rahel and Adiel can access learning during the day and sleep safe and sound near their family at night, but it also means their families receive a support system as well. Whether that’s a parent support group chat or lessons at the community center, supporting one child changes more than one life. 

Building a future where every child belongs

As Adiel’s mobility improves, we’re thinking about his  future. Knowing his mother sells chicken from a food stall, we’re working with Adiel‘s school to develop his food preparation skills. That way, he can take part in the family business when he’s older.

While Rahel still has a long journey ahead, this new collaboration between Perkins, the community center, and Rahel‘s school is a promising start to help her and her classmates reach a brighter future. 

Adiel and Rahel’s exciting progress continues to be possible because of their access to a supportive community program, a partnership with their teachers and schools, and — most importantly — support from their families. And yet, this type of support is rare for children with disabilities in Indonesia, and the world. We must continue to take these steps to end institutionalization and help keep families together.

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