Important Steps in Transforming Child Assessment and Referral System
“Shifting focus to empowering the child and family, and identifying abilities, needs and interests of the child”
City of Mostar has hosted the first training workshop for members of professional bodies that will coordinate the assessment and referral of children with disabilities in accordance with the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF).
In 2019, UNICEF BiH supported the preparation of the ‘Analysis of policies and practices in the area of assessment and referral of children with disabilities at the FBiH level’, which was presented at the final conference. This was followed by the adoption of a Roadmap with recommendations for reform. It was agreed that the Herzegovina-Neretva and Zenica-Doboj Cantons, which had already set up multi-sectoral working groups and adopted action plans to transform the assessment and referral system for children with disabilities, would be the first to embark on reform of the assessment system in accordance with the ICF. The new assessment system includes the establishment of professional bodies at the cantonal level, and the first training workshop marked the beginning of concrete activities on the ground.
“This is the operationalization of the Situational Analysis in BiH, and now after a year of preparation and drafting of documents, criteria for professional bodies, child assessment guidelines and manuals for drafting a personalized support plan, we started delivering the first training for members of the professional bodies with the aim of empowering them to use the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) in the assessment of children”, says Darko Kobetić, professor rehabilitator and UNICEF BiH consultant who prepared the Analysis and delivered the four-day training workshop in Mostar.
“We’ve worked with professionals in relevant fields – psychologists, educational rehabilitators, speech therapists and social workers – specifically on child assessment forms, with a view to empowering both them and the families they work with. The training started with a general introduction to the ICF and gradually moved on to more specific aspects of ICF assessments”, explains Darko Kobetić and adds that this approach entirely focuses on abilities:
“The whole point of the process is to reform the child assessment system, whereby the focus would shift from the current practice of detecting disabilities and establishing diagnoses to empowering the child and family, identifying the child’s abilities, needs and interests, and adapting the environment to these identified abilities, needs and interests”, he says, emphasizing that the ICF’s philosophy says that every child is functional, regardless of the degree of impairment:
“This functionality needs to be found, and based on the functionality we have identified, we need to design a set of activities for each actor in society. The point is that we do not see the child as an incapacity, but as a potential.”
Lejla Lelić, defectologist-speech therapist with the Mostar-based ‘Los Rosales’ centre and member of the professional body, emphasizes the importance of the interactive workshop:
“The workshop completely lived up to my expectations in that it provided a comprehensive set of training sessions over four days. It was meaningful and well-structured, with clear and detailed explanations. I hope that this reform succeeds in improving things, that the focus will be on the child, that the process will not be too stressful for the child and, finally, that the concept of classification will have been abandoned since we’ve had problems with terms such as ‘children with special needs’ and other sensitive terminology that we’ve encountered in our day-to-day work for decades. So, I hope that the child will be seen more as an individual and not as a number on a document or a form to be filled in,” says Lejla Lelić.
Magdalena Musa, an educational rehabilitator from Čitluk and member of the professional body, also commended the workshop as very well organized and professional, but is especially happy to see the process continue:
“I’m happy to see that the training did not stop after the four-day workshop, but will last throughout the year, and that we will have the opportunity to learn a lot more through the practical part of the training, and not just through theory. I think that this is a major reform and I hope it will gain ground and that other experts will recognize the importance of this approach to children. The child is in focus, and with the child the whole family is also in focus. Support is provided in a systematic fashion, rather than each professional acting separately”, says Magdalena Musa, adding that she considers it especially important that younger professionals were given the opportunity:
“At the beginning I wasn’t ready and I didn’t know that we young professionals would do such a difficult and responsible job, but I’m glad that we were given the opportunity, that young people were given this chance, and they were encouraged to learn to work in the right and proper way”.
Nizama Drljević, a psychologist from Mostar, says that she is happy to be part of the professional body and is satisfied with the workshop:
“The trainer equipped us with the important knowledge needed for our future work. In the past we were often assigned different tasks and activities without being properly briefed about what we were supposed to do or how to do it. I think that now things are well organized from the very beginning, with investment in people who will do such a responsible job. The expectations will surely be high, but investments are also being made in the people who will do the job. As a psychologist and member of this professional body, I am especially pleased that this process will highlight children’s abilities, resources and strengths, and will no longer focus on their disabilities.”
Jelena Tomić, a speech therapist from Ljubuški, also sees this approach as innovative and forward-thinking:
“This approach differs substantially from what we were taught at university and how we did our job, and I think it’s better. Darko explained things very clearly, familiarized us gradually with the approach and gave us time to think and ask questions. This was not a sort of workshop where he would teach and we would just sit and listen passively, but one with lively and interactive discussions about everything, with participants trying to look at problems from multiple angles”, says Jelena Tomić, emphasizing that it is very useful to look at a child with disabilities and his or her family from another angle:
“As for how this will be implemented in practice – I want to be optimistic. I’d certainly like to see things change because the current way of classifying children does not put much focus on the child and family, and, as a result, they are often left on their own. This novel approach focuses on the child and his or her family and environment, and tracks the child’s development over time. I think we need to be optimistic. Change is necessary, someone needs to start it. This time it’s us and I hope we start in the right way, lay the right foundation, and then colleagues in other cantons will see from us how good it is and put it into practice for the benefit of children”.
That optimistic sentiment is shared by trainer Darko Kobetić, who is happy with how the four-day workshop in Mostar went:
“We have a mix of both experienced professionals whose line of work entails working with children as well as young enthusiasts who have just started their careers. The idea has been very well received even though our mentality is not always welcoming to novelty. But if something is new and unfamiliar, it doesn’t mean it’s not good and it will fail; it only means that it needs enough support to gain ground. It’s good that this process is owned by professionals, that we tailor our profession as we want. This is an opportunity to do it properly, and I see these people as a valuable resource in this endeavour”, says Darko Kobetić.