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HCD pledges makeover in care system for people with disabilities

By Sawsan Tabazah - Apr 27,2018 - Last updated at Apr 27,2018

AMMAN — Jordan needs to shift the care and support system for people with disabilities from an institution-based framework to a family and community based support services, with the aim of enhancing their social inclusion, an international expert said on Tuesday during a lecture in Amman.

Speaking at a lecture organised by the Higher Council for the Affairs of People with Disabilities (HCD) attended by its President HRH Prince Mired, HRH Prince Raad and HRH Princess Majeda Raad, Lumos’ Chief Executive Officer Georgette Mulheir, highlighted the negative impact of institutional care on children’s development and health.

A UK-based organisation, Lumos works with international stakeholders to help them switch local communities’ care system from institutions and orphanages to family and community provided health, education and social services.

“There are 80 years of scientific evidence proving that children are seriously harmed by being raised in orphanages and institutions which are in fact harming their health and development,” Mulheir stressed, noting that children with disabilities living in institutions are often undernourished either due shortages of staff in these facilities or because some employees prefer these children not to put on weight.

“Caregivers don’t want children to gain weight because they have to carry them to bed, to bathe them or to take them to the toilets and they prefer to keep them light. I have seen young people at the age of 19 and 20 years old with the weight of a 5-year-old child,” she recalled.

Even children receiving good nourishment do not grow and develop the same way as children living with families, she continued, citing a 15-year-long study on brain development that showed a 40 IQ point difference between children living in institutions and those in households.

Furthermore, institutionalised care system is considered expensive. “As part of my work in low, middle and high income countries, I have found that you can provide family-based support services for ten times more children with the same amount of money spent on one child in an orphanage,” she pointed out, citing the example of a baby living in an institution in Czech Republic costing the same as 30 children living in families. 

Mulheir, who has worked in 30 countries transferring care system from institutions to family and community-based services, recently visited a number of public institutions in Amman. 

Despite efforts exerted by workers in these institutions, some children showed strange behaviours, usually developed from a lack of communication in early childhood stages, such as rocking their head back and forth. “I saw some children tied to their bed, women and girls locked inside their rooms, some with shaved heads and generic clothes that do not differentiate between their gender,” she said.

Prince Mired pledged to exert all effort to change the care system existing in Jordan, stressing that this issue is a “red line and it is not acceptable to treat humans the way they are treated today”. 

The prince also underscored that “acknowledging the problem is part of the solution”.

HCD’s Secretary General Muhannad Azzeh, said that the Kingdom is committed to change care and support for children and adults with disabilities, in accordance with the provisions of the 2017 People with Disabilities By-law. 

Lumos is expected to work with the government to draw a long-term plan aimed at shifting the care system, using a number of solutions to render educational systems more inclusive in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, establishing a foster care system for children with disabilities, providing parents with social-home services and creating a respite programme. 

Acknowledging that creating social change is “difficult” and that it might take up to ten years to witness such evolution in Jordan, Mulheir said “it is possible”, voicing her hope to see Jordan lead the way in the Middle East in that regard.

She commended the HCD and the government’s willingness to operate that change, adding that her organisation seeks to transfer all care systems around the world by 2050 under a project dubbed “By 2050 all children will grow up in loving, nurturing, protective families”. 

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