Equal rights and opportunities for children with developmental disabilities

Equal rights and opportunities for children with developmental disabilities

PODGORICA, 3 DECEMBER 2023 – On the World Day of Persons with Disabilities, observed globally on 3 December, UNICEF is urging the Government of Montenegro to ensure that all children, including girls and boys with disabilities, have the opportunity to grow up in nurturing family environments, while enjoying equal rights and opportunities.

Montenegro, as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, has committed itself to ensuring that every child with developmental disabilities can realize their rights and potential without facing discrimination.

“UNICEF acknowledges Montenegro’s progress and is urging for expedited reforms to secure, foremost, a safe family environment for children with developmental disabilities, while ensuring equal rights and opportunities for these children. Collaborative efforts across sectors are vital, as quality inclusive education hinges on robust child, social and health care services for children with disabilities,” stated Sabina Žunić, Acting Head of the UNICEF Representative’s Office in Montenegro.

Rather than institutionalization, the child and social welfare system should intensify support to maintain family unity and avoid unnecessary separation of children from their parents. When removal from biological families becomes necessary, placement within foster families or through adoption emerges as the most favourable solution. This approach is aligned with the best interest of every child, especially of those with developmental disabilities. Hence, nurturing specialized foster care and advocating for the adoption of children with developmental disabilities is crucial. A considerable number of such children currently reside at the “Mladost” Children’s Home in Bijela.

An Ipsos survey from November 2023 reveals that almost 8 out of 10 citizens advocate placing children without parental care into nurturing family environments rather than institutional settings. Citizens believe in the possibility of organizing this for all children, including for those with developmental disabilities. An overwhelming 96 percent of Montenegrin citizens stress the urgency for the new government to ensure that every child grows up in a nurturing family setting, eliminating orphanages from Montenegro.

With UNICEF and EU support, Kotor and Bijelo Polje are piloting a new model for early detection and family-oriented early intervention for children with developmental delays and disabilities. Expert teams from Primary Healthcare Centres, kindergartens, Centres for Social Work, Day Care Centres, or Resource Centres are providing families with comprehensive assistance. This successful pilot project needs replication across all municipalities.

“We visited multiple institutions, and we weren’t satisfied. Six months ago, the Primary Healthcare Centre psychologist recommended enrolling in this early intervention programme, and it’s been an entirely different and improved experience. We feel relieved and more resilient as a family facing this challenge,” expressed Željka, mother of three-year-old Vukašin, while explaining the family-oriented early intervention model.

The importance of providing quality inclusive education to children with developmental disabilities starting from kindergarten is underscored by parents’ experiences.

“My son has made remarkable progress since joining kindergarten. I’ve observed improvements in his behaviour, speech and social skills. He now forms short sentences, recognizes animals and interacts better with others. Even while spending time with his siblings, his behaviour is noticeably better,” highlighted Arslan, father of four-year-old Sinan, who is able to work while his child is attending kindergarten.

For every child to access quality inclusive education, the Ministry of Education, Science and Innovation must enhance support for children with disabilities in kindergartens and schools. A comprehensive analysis of the current situation concerning the number and status of assistants in educational institutions, including consultations with stakeholders – schools, kindergartens, teachers, professionals, assistants, parents and children – is imperative.

Only through the findings and recommendations from this analysis, coupled with updated school data on enrolled children with developmental disabilities, can the ministry allocate an appropriate number of teaching assistants annually and secure their long-term funding within the educational system.

A majority of Montenegrin citizens favour quality inclusive education, as indicated by a survey carried out last month by Ipsos on a nationally representative sample of 612 citizens aged 18 and above. Nine out of ten respondents support children with developmental disabilities attending the same classes as their children, while 84 percent are open to their child befriending a child with developmental disabilities.

To adequately support families with children who have developmental disabilities, establishing local Day Care Centres staffed with various specialists to work with these children after school hours is essential. This initiative facilitates their growth and development, allowing parents to pursue employment opportunities.

“Beyond receiving assistance from a speech therapist, disability expert, psychologist and physiotherapist, Stefan has found love and warmth every time he has visited the Day Care Centre – a driving force for him,” recounted Ana, a mother from Cetinje. She noted visible progress in his behaviour, openness, curiosity and enthusiasm for learning.

Investments in infrastructure, materials and expert personnel are necessary to enable children and young people with developmental disabilities to progress and exercise their rights within their communities. To this end, UNICEF’s Business Council for Children’s Rights aims to collect funds this year to equip existing Day Care Centres in Montenegro based on their specific needs.

All parents need stronger support, especially those with children having developmental disabilities. This area of family services requires further development in the future.

“I believe in future support workshops for parents with children having developmental disabilities should be organized because it’s challenging. I’m aware this might sound selfish, but apparent help is more necessary for us, because when our child is happy, our days are fulfilled, yet we aren’t always resilient to the challenges and fears we face,” expressed Milorad, a father raising a child with developmental disabilities.

Milorad emphasized the crucial importance, both for parents and children, of accepting their child as they are. Although unique and different, each child is wonderful, and embracing their uniqueness is vital. 

Read More