These parents of disabled children are unstoppable

When an educational program for disabled kids is rolled back, their parents take a stand. "Our son is now talking ... For us, this is invaluable progress. Equally, each day he misses out on his education is an irreplaceable loss."

Tijana Cvjeticanin
Tijana Cvjeticanin Istinomjer, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Source: Istinomjer
These parents of disabled children are unstoppable - NewsMavens
A Where Is My School? campaign billboard in Sarajevo.

Why this story matters:

Earlier this year, the local authorities in the Sarajevo Canton announced they would drop existing support for early-intervention and preschool programs for children with developmental disabilities.

For their parents, this was earth-shattering news. Living in a society where prejudices and misconceptions about people with cognitive disorders are still prevalent is hard enough.

With no adequate education, with no support system in place when they reach adulthood, most people with such disabilities are left to their own devices or institutionalized in psychiatric facilities once their parents can no longer care for them.

Faced with the threat of having their kids' learning opportunities taken away, parents banded together. They are determined not to let this happen. Not without a fight, anyway.

Details from the story:

The earliest childhood years are crucial for development, but there is no adequate preschool education for kids with cognitive disabilities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The only available programs, implemented in special schools, are based on an outdated approach which doesn’t consider children' individual talents and doesn't offer any viable prospects for further education and inclusion in society.

In 2010, an organization called “Education for all” (EDUS) introduced a new approach to the education of children with developmental disabilities: early intervention and preschool programs modeled on behavioral analysis, which were constantly readjusted to best suit each child’s individual progress.

The program was a success. Soon, more parents had applied than there were vacancies in the program. So they reached out to the authorities asking for stronger institutional support.

It came in 2015 when the Education Ministry in the Sarajevo Canton provided some funding that allowed for more children to be enrolled. But there were still not enough places to enrol all the children in the program.

In 2016, the authorities promised to find a permanent way to include all children in the programs.

Instead, a year later, even the existing programs were dropped and in September the school year started with no programs for children with developmental disabilities.

But their parents didn’t take it lying down. Months ago, a parents association -- assembled in 2015 to advocate for legal changes for the education of children with disabilities -- started pressing the authorities to change their decision.

They were terrified of losing the only hope for their children to develop. In the words of Aida Ajanović, a colleague and a friend whose four-year-old son is diagnosed with autism:

"Our son is now talking and knows how to express his basic needs. For us, this is invaluable progress. Equally, each day he misses out on his education is an irreplaceable loss."

Their campaign #Whereismyschool? is currently in its 4th week.

So far, they managed to get the authorities to commit to renewing some funding for the programs. And after weeks of silence, the education minister finally announced that he will turn an empty school building into a facility for the programs. But these promises remain just that, as no move has yet been made to bring them to life.

Next week, the parents will meet the minister in person to demand that he follow up on his promise. They are determined not to back down until their children are back in the classroom.

Timeline: where are we now

In 2015, the parents of kids enrolled in EDUS programs formed a Council of Parents to campaign for the inclusion of mandatory preschool education and better school programs for their children.

Soon after, the cantonal education ministry provided financial support and premises for a limited number of children to attend the programs.

The contract is renewed in 2016 for another year.

In April 2016, the authorities pledged to expand the programs to cover all children on the waiting list.

In June 2017, parents are notified that the programs will be discontinued.

During summer of 2017, a number of meetings take place between the parents and both the local and cantonal authorities.

In July, the mayor of Novo Sarajevo municipality offers to hand an empty school building over to the education ministry. The ministry declaratively accepts, but never follows up on the offer.

With the beginning of school year, parents started a public campaign to put pressure on the authorities. They contacted the media, put their messages on billboards in the streets, addressed both local and international officials in letters and proclamations.

The cantonal government adopted a decision to renew funding for the programs. The minister of education promised to file an official request to acquire the school building offered by the municipality. A meeting is scheduled with the minister for October 3rd.

WITH FINANCIAL SUPPORT FROM:
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Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

The information and views set out on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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