Childhood support services are source of strength in Ukraine
Vladyslava’s son, Illia, has a development delay and has received support from specialists, thanks to UNICEF and partners
When Vladyslava found out that her 2-year-old son Illia had a developmental delay, she felt "that life had stopped". But after receiving support from specialists, she has a different view of the world and of parenthood.
"Life hasn't stopped, it isn't awful and it's worth enjoying it fully,” says the 30-year-old mother, as she holds her blue-eyed son. “You don't have to be afraid of giving birth to children, as you can overcome all issues, or at least learn how to live with them”
Olha, a healthcare specialist, supports Vladyslava with her son’s development and communication skills.
"Olha is about to come to see us,” Vladyslava tells Illia, as she prepares Illia for today's meeting. “Do you remember her? She talked to you via computer and visited you at home. You liked her, she is a nice person.”
Olha is a speech therapist, psychologist, and early childhood intervention specialist who works at Ukraine’s Kharkiv Institute of Early Childhood Intervention, where the family turned for help when Illia was eight months old.
The specialists at the institute work with each family individually, selecting a format and schedule of meetings that are comfortable for the child. Depending on the child's needs, a team is formed. This may include a doctor, physical therapist, psychologist, speech therapist and social worker. Often, a single member of the team communicates with the family, acting as a ‘bridge’ between them and the team of specialists.
"We work with children and families in their natural environment, such as playgrounds or at home,” says Olha. “Sometimes, we even work in a store, which can be interesting and useful, because while shopping, you can learn to distinguish shapes, sizes and colours.”
Olha has kept in touch with the family even during the toughest times. At the beginning of the full-scale war in Ukraine, when the family had to take cover from the shelling in a bomb shelter and later flee Kharkiv, the meetings continued online.
"We would meet on Zoom or just use mobile phones,” says Olha. “I remember they sent me a picture of Illia's birthday that they had to celebrate in a basement. In the darkness, they lit a birthday cake candle. It was really touching.”
When the family were forced to flee, the early childhood intervention specialist continued to advise them on Illia’s development.
"If I counted how many problems we’ve faced while raising a child with disabilities during a war, I wouldn't have enough fingers,” says Vladyslava. “It's always like – how do we prepare food? How do we brush his teeth? Is he crawling correctly? Can I give my child a massage? How do I calm my child down amid air alerts? While on the internet there is plenty of incorrect information, Olha gives us professional and practical advice that really helps.”
After their return to Kharkiv, Vladyslava and her husband decided that they were ready for a second child, so they are now raising three-month-old Mia. The family had a lot of new questions for Olha about Illia's interaction with his younger sister.
"Children are not a problem, they are pure happiness,” says Vladyslava, smiling. “The main thing is you shouldn't be afraid to ask for help when you can't cope by yourself.”
Early childhood intervention is a comprehensive service for families with young children who have or are at risk of developmental disorders. The service helps to provide care from birth to three years and includes support for families in overcoming crises, developing vital skills in children, and improving children's interactions.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and its partners provide access to early childhood intervention services for Ukrainian families. This includes ensuring complex support for early childhood intervention specialists, such as their training, the exchange of experiences, and the work of comprehensive fully-equipped rehabilitation centres. The project is implemented with the financial support of the German Government's Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) through the KfW Development Bank.