Reforming orphanages and implementing inclusive education: everything the Ukrainians should know

Maryna Rybna
Social Democratic Platform activist
What's wrong with orphanages?
Do you know how many children are there in orphanages?

There are 106, 000, while 92% of them have families, respectively, 8% are orphans.

Back in the summer, a reform with the somewhat unclear name "deinstitutionalization" (DI) began in Ukraine. The term is quite complicated. It hides changes that will affect the boarding school system.
Earlier, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine approved the National strategy for reforming the system of institutional care and upbringing of children for 2017-2026. Developers assure that DI is not about closing orphanages, not about saving money, not about the fact that tomorrow children will end up in the street.

However, doubts still exist.

There are 751 residential institutions for children in Ukraine. 39 institutions are in the system of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine (where 2,773 children live and are educated), 132 are in the system of the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine (5,087 children), 580 are in the system of the Ministry of Education and Science (97,923 children). Such dispersion and chronic funding issues surely complicate the process.

What will the reform lead to?

The main aim is to find a family for every child:

– the funds allocated for boarding schools will be directed to support families in difficult life circumstances so that they can raise their children;

– more support for family-type orphanages and children adoption;

– children who will not be placed in a family will live in institutions that are as close as possible to the conditions of family living, where no more than 10 children will be raised.

Why the reform is needed right now?

Boarding institutions are a thing of the past, where children are subjected to torture and abuse both by the administration and by older pupils. Such situation does not occur in all orphanages, but in most.

Today, children who are brought up in orphanages are absolutely not adapted to real life: they do not know how to cook food, how to spend money, how to buy food in the store, how to make new acquaintances, and many other everyday issues. Children can't be brought up in isolation, every child has the right to a happy childhood, and everything must be done to give them such an opportunity.

Why is inclusion important?
Inclusive education is a system of educational services based on the principle of ensuring children's basic right to education and the right to obtain it at their place of residence. The education of a child with special educational needs in the conditions of a general educational institution is important.

Special educational institutions give the right to education to children with disabilities. These can be both separate institutions for children with a certain type of disability (separately for children with visual, hearing impairments, etc.), and institutions where all children with disabilities study together.

In the process of implementing inclusive education, it is planned to liquidate special institutions.

Currently, Article 20 of the Law of Ukraine "On Education" obliges the administration of educational institutions to create conditions for the child's education (opening an inclusive grade, involving other specialists needed, providing the necessary facilities for education, etc.) upon application by the parents of a child with special educational needs. This law is already operating today! How does it operate? The question is complicated… The lack of experience, specialists and the desire to create the necessary conditions for children with special educational needs significantly slows down the implementation of inclusion in Ukraine.

If a child with a disability graduated from a specialized institution under a special programme, he or she cannot obtain higher education under general conditions; accordingly, this closes his or her access to a huge number of professions.

If the reform does not work properly, children with disabilities will face the same problems again. Lack of information and experience in communicating with other people with disabilities is the main reason for their segregation. Everything starts at school, and there children learn not only to solve problems, but also to interact with each other.

Some people believe that children with visual, hearing impairments, cognition and learning, sensory and/or physical needs cannot study in comprehensive schools, but the existing experience proves otherwise.

And fortunately, not only foreign experience, but also the Ukrainian one. At the same time, to implement ambitious plans, one concept is not enough. It is important to make maximum efforts so that inclusive education in Ukraine could be more successful, and special institutions increasingly lose their relevance.

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