Co-authored by: Irena Celaj, Project Officer, Aida Bekic,  Regional Project Manager and Simine Alam, Regional Information and Communication Manager, Save the Children MEEE

Last year Save the Children established two centres for children with disabilities in the cities of Durres and Vlore in Albania. The centres provide a range of quality services for children with disabilities such as individual treatment, physical therapy and education support. Families are also given training on how to work with the children in the home setting and how to better advocate for the rights of their children to social inclusion.

Staff at the centres also reach out to local public institutions to ensure that children with disabilities are being included in the school system and the community. They follow up with local institutions to ensure they are fulfilling their commitments in allocation of sufficient resources to provide services for children with disabilities.

The ‘school-community integrated practice’

In Albania, Save the Children has adopted a ‘school-community integrated practice’ towards the inclusion and development of children with disabilities. This practice resulted from the approach of the two centres in Durres and Vlore, which work with the community at all different levels. The ‘school-community integrated practice’ focuses on improving educational outcomes for children with disabilities in pre- and primary schools, and also on establishing quality services to support the child’s development, independency and prospects of inclusion.

In order to have maximum outreach both in the school and community, Save the Children has built up multi-disciplinary teams that involvethe staff of community based centres and schools, parents and representatives of local health and social protection services. The teams are responsible for the assessment of the children and the development and follow-up of their individual development plans.

The children’s development plans are based on the assessment of motivation, self-esteem, emotional and cognitive growth and needs, motor functioning and educational needs. They frame the entire support spectrum each child might need from individual therapies to family and community-based support.

Save the Children also works closely with a network of local service providers, including education authorities, municipal, social, protection and health services, community members and local NGOs, who are updated regularly on the work and needs of the school-community collaboration. This ensures that the case management system remains effective and the children have the wider support of the community.

The school-community integrated practice currently supports 62 children between the ages of six and twelve, who are having difficulties with skill development, learning, socialization and integration. It is in line with Albania’s national social protection reform agenda that aims to respond to the need for the establishment of appropriate support services that can ensure the inclusion of children with disabilities. 

Suada’s story 

Suada, ten years old, was diagnosed with moderate mental retardation. Her case was referred by her teacher to the community based centre in Durres several months ago. Suada is in the second grade, and she loves her primary school, but she struggles academically due to the difficulties she has with speaking and following what is being taught. And so she ends up participating less in class.

When Suada started going to the centre, she could hardly pronounce a few words. She couldn’t match the numbers and letters she had memorized with their corresponding figures. She couldn’t identify colors and didn’t express much interest in communication, toys, surrounding objects or the therapy being offered to her.

As soon as Suada joined the program, the staff at the centre and the school sat down with her mother to discuss her needs. They set a plan for her development and regularly shared information on her progress and changes.

Suada’s development plan consisted of intense and coordinated teamwork from the speech therapist and psychologist at the centre, her parents at home and her school teacher and psychologist. As a result her speech improved significantly, she now recognizes numbers and letters and her vocabulary has increased. Suada has become more active in communication and willingly collaborates in cognitive activities both at school and the centre. She now recognizes some of the colors and says that red is her favorite. She loves dancing and singing her favorite songs during class activities and celebrations.

Suada’s mother is happy with her daughter’s progress and feels more confident about her future development. She gets regular updates on her progress along with instructions and advice on how to work with her at home. She helps Suada with her daily activities and has shared her newfound knowledge and skills with parents of other children attending the centre during the parents’ sessions. 

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The Community Based Services for Children with Disabilities Project is a regional initiative being implemented in Albania, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (North-West Balkans), Georgia and Kosovo. The project aims to empower children with disabilities to develop their potentials, practice independence and enjoy inclusion. It also strengthens families and mobilizes communities to ensure children with disabilities are provided with the quality services they need.