Nackeshia Tomlinson, Gleaner Writer
SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth:
THE ST Elizabeth branch of the Rural Services for Children with Disabilities has been providing support for children with varying disabilities since 1982 when it began home visits.
Madge Sanderson, centre-based supervisor, said with a grant and a bus from the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica in 2005, the offerings have now expanded to a day programme where disabled children are catered to while their parents are at work.
Sanderson said the need for the centre-based programme arose when they realised that the home visits were inadequate, and if the children were together, they would have access to more services.
Direne Waite, parish supervisor, told The Gleaner that the services offered are therapeutic, medical assessment by trained personnel, parent support, adaptive skills, and training for staff and parents.
With six members of staff, Sanderson said the centre currently caters to 25 children, some of whom come to them daily, or once per week. Sanderson said on a typical day, the children are placed in one of three units which cater to cognitive needs and range-of-motion activities/exercises, basic speech therapy, and self-help - the areas which help them to be more independent.
The clients of the organisation expressed their gratitude for the services that their children are able to access.
Laurel Gordon, the mother of an autistic child, said she had been attending the centre since its inception.
"The school has done a world of good for my daughter. They potty-trained her, and she has been getting other things there," Gordon told The Gleaner.
She added: "The service is very good and the teachers are very excellent. My daughter has improved greatly, and it has helped me to accept her disability more." Similar sentiments were expressed by Eube Charlton, another parent whose child has cerebral palsy. "Since we started last year, we are seeing improvements in our child. What we used to spend in getting private therapy, it makes it more manageable for us."
He added: "We are grateful for the parent-support group because it helps you to accept and to cope at home. And the things that are done here, it gives us a level of comfort and confidence."
As a non-governmental organisation, Rural Services for Children with Disabilities is struggling financially as they operate with a stipend from the Ministry of Education, fund-raising, or donations from philanthropic-minded persons nationally and at the local level.
Waite said they are desperately in need of a building as the place that they currently rent has limited space.
In emphasising the importance of the programme, Sanderson said they have seen children whose parents deemed them unable to do anything, and after working with them, they have improved significantly.
"For St Elizabeth, there is no such programme that caters for children with multiple disabilities. It assists the parents to get the children in this setting to get the children to interact."
Waite pointed out that the institution helped to minimise costs as parents can now get the support for the daily needs of their disabled children in St Elizabeth.