Wed | Jun 3, 2020

Nathan Ebanks Foundation: changing the lives of children with disabilities

Published:Friday | February 22, 2019 | 12:00 AMKeisha Hill/Senior Gleaner Writer
From left: International speech language pathologist Erin Mercer, Communications Director at Nathan Ebanks Foundation (NEF) MichelleDouglas-Campbell, principal of Gideon Early Childhood and Education Centre Nadia Carby, and NEF founder and president Christine Staple Ebanks. The group of educators and special-needs activists were engaged in a vibrant discussion on communication techniques geared to young children following a recent workshop held at the Stella Maris Pastoral Centre, St Andrew.

Parents want to protect their children and keep them safe. When your child is ill or injured, your whole family can be affected, and it is normal to feel overwhelmed.

For two years, Christine Staple-Ebanks was overwhelmed and couldn’t find any answers on how to effectively care for her son, Nathan, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at nine months old.

“I was constantly given the negative side of the diagnosis. The focus was entirely on what never to expect, and after a while, I was not sure what to do and I couldn’t find any answers to the situation. So, I decided to set a plan in motion to find out how he could be helped,” Staple-Ebanks said.

She got her ray of hope following a consultation overseas with a developmental paediatrician. “The difference in approach and personalities was the first indication for me that something was going to shift. It was such a difference. It was the beginning of the genesis that there was something that could be done about it, and all it took were the right persons to get it done,” she said.

From her experiences, starting at the grass-roots level, capturing the attention of parents and teachers and moving on to professionals, school heads and policymakers, Staple-Ebanks started to initiate ideas towards enabling society to include and empower persons with disabilities.

The Nathan Ebanks Foundation (NEF) was then set up by Staple-Ebanks and her husband, in honour of Nathan, with the mission of ensuring that her son and all children with disabilities and special needs in Jamaica are included in the community. The objective was also for these children to participate fully, be empowered, and realise their full potential.

“There are an estimated 200,000 children living with a disability in Jamaica and a poor social system in place to integrate them. Children and their families live without any hope of receiving the support they desperately need,” Staple-Ebanks said.

Practical support




The NEF provides practical support directly to parents, caregivers and teachers to improve the level of care, management and support of the children in their daily lives, both at home and in school.




They also work with schools to improve access to, and evidence-based practices for effectively reaching and teaching children and adolescents with disabilities and other special and exceptional needs and representing the interests of children and families through public education and advocacy at every level of society to promote social inclusion.




“The Nathan Ebanks Foundation, through the Nathan Ebanks Children Advocacy Group, also provide tools for parents, educators and caregivers to initiate critical-thinking skills and also assist with early detection, identification and intervention for children with physical and non-physical communication challenges,” Staple-Ebanks said.




The NEF and international speech language pathologist Erin Mercer recently hosted a workshop series to introduce a speech-and-language milestone checklist and explore the role of speech and language therapy.




During the sessions, it was demonstrated and discussed how books and activities can be used strategically to facilitate the development of communication and critical-thinking skills.




The two-day training series also had goals to provide a platform for participants to be trained to use the screening tool for the purpose of identifying children who may need further evaluation by a speech-language specialist, in addition to providing a platform for educators and practitioners to engage in meaningful discussions with parents about their children’s abilities and skills.