Care and support for disabled children

Care and support for disabled children

Xu Xin
Children with disabilities receive rehabilitation service provided by professionals in Lanzhou Child Welfare Institute.
UNICEF/China/2010/Jerry Liu
11 May 2010

Nine-year-old Ke Xin has cerebral palsy, a disease that has weakened her legs and caused them to bend inward. She also has learning difficulties. At the age of three, she was abandoned by her parents. Many abandoned children like Ke Xin are sent to Child Welfare Institutes.

"She can't go to school because of her palsy", said Shen Haimin, 52, Ke Xin's foster mother of three years. "Though I've taught her the ten Arabic numbers for more than a year now, she can only write the number one. Providing her education is beyond our capacity. She needs more professional help."

The Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA) and United Nation Children's Fund (UNICEF) are now piloting programmes in Gansu and Sichuan provinces to establish community day care centres for children like Ke Xin. These centres will provide rehabilitation services, learning opportunities, psychological support and care advice to children with disabilities and their natural or adopted families.

About 100,000 children are abandoned each year, most of whom are children with disabilities or girls, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs and UNICEF in the June 1 Stocktaking Report of Child Welfare in China. By providing these needed services to children with disabilities in their communities, UNICEF believes that fewer families will resort to abandonment.

With the help of her foster mother, 9-year-old Wenjun walks with a rehabilitation aid in a street near her home.

Preventing abandonment

The rehabilitation of children with disabilities relies on their caregivers, who receive a subsidy of about RMB1300 per year or short-term social support. However, a 2001 nationwide sample survey found that nearly 35 percent of children with disabilities under the age of six had not received any kind of rehabilitation service. In the face of financial pressure and the inaccessibility of special services for children with disabilities, some families choose to abandon their children.

"More than 90 percent of the children in our orphanage have been abandoned and suffer from serious birth abnormalities such as heart defects, cleft lip, cerebral palsy, autism, spinal bifida, seizure disorders and others disabilities," said Bai Luzhou, the Communist Party Secretary of Lanzhou Child Welfare Institute.

The sheer number of abandoned children with disabilities adds increasing pressure on the welfare institute. Mr. Bai explained that there are too few staff members for the number of children in his institute, making it difficult to attend to all children's needs.

"Sometimes a nurse can't get around to attending to every child," said Zhan Yalin, 55, another foster mother. "So you will find when those children come to foster families, they always ask for hugs and just love being hugged."

A boy asks for a hug at Lanzhou Child Welfare Institute.

A new home

Like other orphans with less severe disabilities, Ke Xin will stay with her foster family until she can be adopted – in most cases by foreign families.

"I never had a birthday celebration till I came to this family," she said timidly. Being with a family provides her with a comfort that institutes can rarely provide.

"In the first few days after she joined our family, she called every one, including my husband and son ayi (aunt) – a common practice of children from the orphanage," said a smiling Shen Haimin.  "She'd been living in the orphanage for so long and had no idea of normal family relations."

The MCA/UNICEF pilot programme will last for three years. "We hope that we can draw up lessons and best practices from this joint programme and provide evidence for the government's policy development to get family care and good services to more children with disabilities," said Wang Daming, UNICEF China Child Protection Specialist.