Saturday, October 29, 2011

Child Find Peru

In Anchorage every year, the school staff is trained that they have an obligation to report any students with a possible disabilities that may require specialized support. This is called "Child Find", and specifically it requires states to identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities, aged birth to 21, who are in need of early intervention or special education services. (I'd like to mention that my home state of Montana is one of six states recognized by the US Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) for their performance in this area. Way to go MT).

In Peru, special education is done a little different. Here they do perform Child Find; however, its literally performed. Due to the fact that children with disabilities are sometimes seen as a burden or a source shame for a family, they are hidden in their homes (son ninos escondidos/ they're hidden children) and do not receive any educational support. To remedy this, the teachers and staff of the special education school  have to go out into the community twice a year in search of  these children. Meaning, they go door to door, and ask "do you know of any hidden children with disabilities". So when they asked if I wanted to go with them, I felt like it was something I needed to see.

We left early one Saturday morning (the 22nd) and we walked through 4 different suburbs of Caraz. It took about 6 hours, and the day was considered to be a success. We found 5 children, all of whom displayed what appeared to be significant disabilities. We also took the time to talk to the mothers, or other family members, to explain why the student should be attending the special education school, and more importantly way these children shouldn't be considered a burden.

Generally when I leave from working with the special education school, I have a drained, but satisfied feeling. However, I have to admit seeing some of these kids' home environments and hearing the families' stories was a little too heavy for one day. One mother shared how her husband had left her and their 13 children after the last child was born with a disability (and how since this child's birth 4 of her older children had died). It was rough to hear, and difficult to convince her that bringing her child to the special education school should be a priority (cutting into her house chores, the raising of her other children, and earning enough money to put food on the table). She was prettied convinced she had been cursed.

On the up side, every child we found seemed so happy to see us, and the parents or family seemed to show a great amount of gratitude that strangers were so accepting of their child, no matter their disability.

The director taking notes during a home visit on our Child Find. The chico (boy) on the  left is hopefully a future student at the special education school.