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Re-enforcing Strengths with a Parents of Special Needs Children Support Group in Ukraine

Group support for parents, especially moms, of children with special needs is an extraordinary way to connect resources and acceptance.

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Congratulations! You're having a twins! How exciting and beautiful for you! Until the doctors give you devastating news that one of your babies has cerebral palsy... Or, when you bravely decide to have another child after your first child has cerebral palsy, only to discover your second baby also has mobility issues... Or, you're a single mom as your former husband couldn't take the stigma of having a son with Down syndrome and left the family with no forwarding address... Or, you struggle with the decision to place your child in a state-run institution or face unemployment... Or, or, or? The parenting stories are endless. One can sit around in a pity party, but most parents do not have the time or resources to waste. They demonstrate enormous strength and perseverance to keep going and to seek answers to honor their special needs child. 

At Dzherelo Children’s Rehabilitation Centre in Lviv, Ukraine, one way parenting strengths and capabilities are developed is in a monthly support group. They discuss research, activities, medical issues, and volunteer activities at the center. They seek strength and communication with each other in a supportive manner. They share ideas, empathy, and make connections for mutual understanding and resources. People are their greatest resources, especially each other. Telling stories and listening to each other relieves pressure in a non-judgmental way. Someone once said, “No man is an island.” This is never more true than when being the parent of a child with special needs or illness.

The awe-inspiring strength and compassion that it takes parents to get out of bed on a daily basis to face another day of gut-wrenching disability issues is amazing. The support group provides creative ideas, emotional safety without judgment, and open communication. This group has become a vital link for parents to remember they need balance in their lives by encouraging self-care. Use of emotional, spiritual, and physical care means learning how to ask for help. Comfort and swallowing one’s pride have been themes when seeking advice. Parents quickly learn they can’t get help if they don’t ask for it. This group provides a safe place to do so.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

“It takes a village to raise a child.”- Proverb. This is never truer than with special needs children. As isolating as it may be to be a parent, it is much more so with a child who requires early intervention and medical services. Communal support can save a parent’s sanity, time, and finances. Developing a “village” can share the joys and the burdens, making life a life easier to bear.

How does this research relate to our use cases and personas?

This concept helps the “under-resourced mom” as it encourages the use of communal resources and understanding that “no parent is an island.” Early intervention supports for children and families need to be widely broadcast, especially in parent groups. These groups can help cope with burdens and successes in order to help the children thrive to the best of their abilities. As Ukraine is identified as middle-income country, this project is extremely important for disadvantaged families.

Tell us about yourself:

I have over 17 years experience as an Art Therapist, Drug and Alcohol Counselor, and Clinical Supervisor working with all ages and types of clients in multiple settings.

Are you currently an employee of Sutter Health or UCB Pharmaceuticals?

  • No

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Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Christie!

Thank you for sharing the great work of the Dzherelo Children’s Rehabilitation Centre. Do you connect with the mothers whilst they are pregnant i.e. Peers Support Groups for Moms that Start During Pregnancy and Continue Postpartum ? Does the support include support with financial issues?

Photo of Christie

Thanks for reaching out and for your thoughtful questions. At this time, Dzherelo Centre does not have the resources to reach out to pregnant moms, but advocates that they connect with us once the baby is delivered. We are looking to build better connections with medical partners in the area as well. Currently, Dzherelo Centre is the only daily program that serves severely disabled youth from ages 0-45 in Ukraine. As a not-for-profit, the kids receive free services and we are looking for funding. This being the case, we cannot provide monetary support to families, but often provide in-kind donations to the children. In the last 25 years, Dzherelo Centre has served more than 5,000 youth and families through early intervention, kindergarten, and youth workshops.