DISABILITIES: helping children stay with their families in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
By Thomas Nybo
On 5 October UNICEF’s Innocenti Research Centre released its latest report, entitled ‘Children and Disability in Transition in CEE/CIS and the Baltic States’. The report examines the situation of children in the CEE/CIS region who have a variety of disabilities.
SKOPJE, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 4 October 2005 – Ljubche Dimoska has come a long way since leaving a state-run institution for the disabled in The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. It's not apparent just by looking at him, but a few words with his foster mother clarifies his remarkable journey.
"When Ljupche first came to the family, he wasn't able to walk, he wasn't able to eat, he wasn't able to go to the bathroom by himself," says Vesna Dimoska. "Little by little, I taught him how to eat. He can now go to the bathroom by himself at night and he's just greatly improved overall."
When it comes to the institutionalization of children, UNICEF is working to get children like Ljubche discharged and reintegrated into a biological, foster or other family environment. UNICEF has supported the opening of five day care centres that help to reduce the risk of institutionalization of children with disabilities. UNICEF trains policy makers, university professors, teachers and social service staff to develop care that is based in the community, and schools that include all children, disabled or otherwise.
Karolina Josifoska, an education caregiver, says, "The centre is important for the children as well as their families because this was the first opportunity for them to get out of the institutions and interact with other children."
Bringing children together
UNICEF's approach to child-friendly schools includes the mainstreaming of children with disabilities – and others outside the normal school system – into the classroom.
UNICEF also backed an initiative to identify children outside of the school system, and to encourage them to go to school. Today 75 elementary schools have opened their doors wider to include all children. Exclusion leads to disabled children's invisibility in society and increased stigmatisation against them – a serious violation of their rights.
Children who previously would have been kept in an institution for all of their lives – often confined to their beds with little physical or emotional stimulation – can now grow up in a family environment. Children like Ljubche now live full and happier lives in dignity, and are integrated as completely as possible into their communities.