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Inclusion of children with disabilities begins in the community

Living in the remote town of Eldorado, in the province of Misiones in northeastern Argentina, five-year-old Lorenzo Galeano is triply excluded. The little boy has cerebral palsy, causing serious speech and movement impairments, his family is poor and his brother and mother, too, have disabilities. Despite this difficult start in life, today the five-year-old is receiving the care, professional guidance and physical therapy necessary for him to learn and grow to the best of his potential. This has been largely possible through his parents’ perseverance and the efforts of a community-based initiative in Eldorado. The programme that is offering Lorenzo and his family new hope is the Integrated Care for Children with Disabilities programme at the Hogar de Día Eva Perón, known more commonly as the Eldorado Community Centre. The centre receives support and funding from Misiones’ Ministries of Education and Health and UNICEF Argentina.

The Integrated Care for Children with Disabilities programme begins by identifying families with children that could benefit from its services. Community health promoters invite these families to participate in the programme and the children are evaluated by a multidisciplinary team of professionals, who chart out the most beneficial course of treatment and therapy for them. The families are also provided with psychosocial support. Since its inception in 2005, the programme has provided services to over 700 children in 10 centers located at different municipalities in Misiones province.

In Lorenzo’s case, a community health promoter visits his home twice a week and then drives for a few hours through Eldorado’s jungle to take him to the Eldorado Community Centre. There, together with other children, Lorenzo receives professional attention designed specifically for his needs. Apart from speech and physical therapy, his activities for the day include listening to stories, sharing toys and playing games with the other children. Not only are these activities enjoyable, but they also serve as significant lessons in social interaction for children who had rarely left their homes before joining the programme.

The Integrated Care for Children with Disabilities programme also places a strong emphasis on the role of the family and community in rehabilitation efforts. Towards this end, it promotes parents’ participation in every step of their child’s treatment and offers them advice on such issues as adapting living areas to their child’s needs and choosing the best toys and furniture to strengthen their abilities.

Eldorado Community Centre’s promising results

The positive results at the Eldorado Community Centre are visible. Beyond the progress that children are making in improved motor, speech and other skills, parents are also now realizing the potential their children have for a fuller life. Almost all the parents involved with the programme claim to feel a strengthened bond with their child, because of the increased participation in activities together outside the home. Moreover, every school-aged child in the programme is now attending school (some in special education classes), whereas only 60 per cent of them did so before the programme began. The treatment and care that Lorenzo and other children receive at the Eldorado Community Centre is helping to provide these young children with a solid foundation as they take their first steps towards interacting with other children, adults and the world.

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