Category: Resourceful Young Children | Comprehensive ECD package | 1 March, 2013 - 13:09← BACK
Inclusion and accessibility are two particularly challenging aspects of the provision of ECD services in South Africa, especially in economically poor and geographically remote communities. Whilst funding and resources are one aspect of the challenge, attitudes towards disability and difference within communities can also be a significant obstacle. Attitudes range from outright intolerance to indifference to simple ignorance and lack of information. From our experience in the rural communities in which we work we have found that people with physical, intellectual or social challenges are often accepted as they are, but nothing is done to try and improve their condition or to provide support; or they are shunned and excluded from community activities. We have come across many such cases where varying degrees of intervention at a community level are possible and can make a difference.
An illustrative example is the work done with a young boy who attends one of the community-run Safe Parks within our programme.
Luxolo (not his real name), is a 5 year old boy who comes from a very troubled and dysfunctional family. His father is not part of his life; his mother shares a home with another woman and both drink heavily. Luxolo clearly has learning and developmental difficulties; he speaks with great difficulty and has a very small vocabulary. His physical movement is awkward and jerky, and he suffers from convulsions (which appear to be a fairly recent occurrence). He has visual problems and also drools copiously so his face and clothes are usually wet with saliva. He does not, as yet, have complete control over his bladder and bowels so soils his clothing on occasion. He exhibits some of the symptoms of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder and it is possible that some of his challenges may be as a result of his mother drinking during her pregnancy.
The community tolerates Luxolo but sees him as a ‘lost cause’ because of his disabilities and family background. People are inclined to say, “Well, it’s his mother’s fault” and walk away. He dropped out of pre-school and it seems neither the teacher nor anyone else was interested in getting him back into the classroom, possibly because looking after Luxolo involves a lot of hard work.
Working with Community Champions and clinic-based Positive Health Champions, we have managed to get Luxolo to attend a Safe Park just near his home. The Safe Park teachers are working with the health workers to help his family to understand the need for him to spend the day in a safe and stimulating environment instead of roaming the streets. We have spoken at length to reinforce the importance of remaining respectful of the person, (Luxolo’s mother), even if they do not like her habit and the impact it has on the child. Criticism and a judgemental attitude will only drive the mother away and the child will ultimately suffer.
The Positive Health Champions are working with the teachers to be more tolerant and proactive about his poor hygiene and to introduce measures to help with this. He is not well fed at home but at the Safe Park he receives food supplements in the form of nutritionally fortified e-peanut butter, e-pap (porridge) and e-soup and the practitioners monitor his weight weekly at present. We have provided shoes and clothing, some of which are kept at school, so that he can be changed when necessary, and other simple resources like plastic aprons for the teachers. The teachers have only witnessed one seizure at school but apparently he has them more often at home. The Positive Health Champions are working with his mother to see that he attends the clinic regularly and receives his medication.
Luxolo’s attendance at school is erratic at present and this has a definite effect on his behaviour and performance. When he has been away he struggles to re-integrate with the other children and them with him; he is agitated and seems to regress in terms of toilet training.
In working with Luxolo and other children with diverse challenges, we have recognised the importance of taking a holistic approach which addresses the home and family environment as well as creating a supportive and accessible space in the ECD site.
We have involved the community and other service providers such as local schools, clinics, social services and the occupational and speech services of the nearest hospital. We have focused on promoting tolerance and inclusion with those who interact with the children, including teachers, self-help group members, Positive Health Champions, other children and the community as a whole. Gradually we can begin to shift attitudes from identifying certain individual children or families as a problem, to seeing that they have a problem and are in need of our assistance and support rather than our judgement and blame. We’ve recognised the crucial role that teachers and community health workers need to play in identifying children who have special needs or who are particularly vulnerable. We’ve also learnt that one of the most important roles we can play as development practitioners is to build their confidence and enable them to respond to problems and look for solutions rather than ignoring, and thereby perpetuating, these challenges.
We have incorporated a focus on tolerance and inclusion as part of all our training with Positive Health Champions and self-help group members. There is definitely a need to encourage schools and communities to be more tolerant of people, even those who exhibit problematic behaviour, to work respectfully with them and to become involved in trying to improve the long term outcomes for the sake of the whole community. It is easy to write someone off as a ‘hopeless case’ but it’s important to ask what the wider implications are for the children involved, the family and the community as a whole. If we only provide services to children and families who are ‘accessible’ and ‘easy’ to work with we are failing to build a more equitable, socially just society.
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In this 1-page-pitch the Angus Gillis Charitable Trust addresses the importance of inclusion and accessibility in the provision of ECD services through an illustrative case study.