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.

What happens to children with disabilities when they have access to a supportive community and programming? 

In Indonesia, children with disabilities make up the invisible majority in institutional care settings. Those with multiple disabilities are up to three times more likely to be placed in institutions. A lack of community support services for children and families is one critical, contributing factor. In institutional or residential care settings, basic needs may be met but quality education is almost always lacking.

Global research has shown that children develop best with strong and supportive relationships in a safe and nurturing family-like environment. That‘s why its Perkins‘ goal to develop community-based solutions that support keeping families together.

Meet Adiel and Rahel

Two students enrolled in Perkins supported community programs in Indonesia.

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 twelve year old boy who loves going to the beach with his family. He attends school at YPABK Muncar, a Perkins‘ partner school who we are working with to enhance their educational programs for students with disabilities. Adiel didn‘t always like going to school, and would often cry on school days.

Through our partnership with his school, Adiel‘s teacher, Ibu, found new ways to communicate with students, like using sign language. Since this change, Adiel is now excited to attend school and engage in classroom activities.

At home, Adiel‘s family lacked the confidence to support him and his cerebral palsy, often afraid of being too hands-on with mobility exercises. Instead they relied on Adiel‘s school to take care of his needs. Without regular stretches and exercise, Adiel’s disability could limit his movement even more over time. 

Then, Adiel’s mother, Warsiyah, attended a workshop run by Perkins specialists. The workshop “Physiotherapy as Fun Movement and Play for Children with Cerebral Palsy” brought teachers and parents together to encourage learning through play at school and home, while emphasizing how to integrate physical therapy movements into fun activities.

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.

She learned safe ways to incorporate exercise and physical therapy activities with her son at home. Warsiyah‘s mindset shifted. She was empowered to be more hands-on with Adiel, and her confidence grew with each new activity. Warsiyah proudly shares Adiel’s progress with the other parents from the workshop and actively participates in the parent support group.

Since the workshop and starting these activities at home, Adiel has unlocked important milestones!

  • He started eating and drinking by himself.
  • He can work independently on tasks assigned by his teacher, like cleaning up at the end of the day.
  • Adiel can now stand with the support of holding a table or chair.
  • Adiel‘s father has also gotten more involved to support his son‘s progress. He modified a walker for Adiel to move around independently.

Rahel and the magic of flashcards

Rahel is a sweet ten year old girl. While a tad shy, she is always smiling and is very tolerant of new people and situations.

Rahel has a learning disability and cerebral palsy, which affects her lower body and makes it difficult to walk. In her early years she received physical therapy services through the community outreach program of Yayasan Bhakti Luhur in Batu. However, these programs were paused during the pandemic, forcing Rahel and her grandmother — Rahel‘s caretaker — to go years without continued support.

At the beginning of our partnership with Yayasan Bhakti Luhur, we were reconnected with Rahel. She was enrolled in grade 2 at a local special school, but rarely attending. Additionally, Rahel‘s grandmother reported that she could not read, write, or do any math, despite being incredibly bright.

While getting to know Rahel, a Perkins specialist demonstrated to the program staff how to make assessments playful — like writing and drawing on flashcards to assess reading levels — while gaining a baseline understanding of a child‘s skills and opportunities for future growth. Rahel responded positively to this playful approach, especially 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‘ specialists and local staff began remedial sessions to build Rahel‘s reading, writing, and math skills. Using flashcards and play-based learning, Rahel made quick progress in matching pictures and words, pointing, and completing the alphabet. In math, she used real objects to make progress in addition and subtraction.

Eventually, Rahel’s school teacher joined one of the sessions at the community center. As Rahel showcased her new literacy and math skills, her teacher was surprised, amazed, and eager to learn strategies to support Rahel’s learning.

This interaction spurred a partnership between the school and the community outreach program. Since then, the Yayasan Bhakti Luhur community center has expanded their potential services beyond physical therapy and into life skills and educational skills. Rahel’s teacher is also integrating more functional activities at the school, like making omelets.

Today, Rahel is a different kid. She attends school almost every day. She reads short and simple words. She does 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 local Indonesian partners, 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 provide the best opportunities for learning is to create a triangle of support:

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

For Adiel and Rahel, having a triangle of support means not only can they access learning, but define their own successes!

A future of opportunity

As Adiel’s mobility improves, we are thinking forward to his future. Warsiyah sells chicken from a food stall. With this in mind, we’re working with Adiel‘s school on ways to develop his food preparation skills so he has the opportunity to take part in the family business.

While Rahel still has a long journey ahead, this new collaboration between Perkins, the community center, and Rahel‘s teacher is a promising start to help her 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. We must continue to take these steps to end institutionalization and help keep families together.

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