After the emotional story of the young people from the sheltered home in Lukovit about the unforgettable day in Sofia, I want to share my thoughts. They are one of the restless who always come out with anxiety and questions. Why, for instance, did it happen that only half of those who came to the long-planned and thoughtful excursion came to Sofia? And is it so difficult to find transportation for everyone?
I do not believe in apologies such as “no opportunity”, “this is the situation”, “it is not happening”. Moreover, when this type of behavioral model, in turn, creates a way of thinking and perceiving the world as a hostile place where people like Petya, Eli, Maria and Toshko find it difficult to fit.
This, of course, made me delve into the documents and check what the real purpose of these sheltered homes and family-type accommodation centers are, which seem to be on the path of the deinstitutionalization. The definitions for the operation of such accommodation centers in the Rules for Implementation of the Law on Social Assistance:
- Family-Centered Accommodation Center is a complex of social services provided in a family-friendly environment for a limited number of people – up to 15
- Shelter Homes are forms of social services in which people lead an independent, professionally assisted living.
Here are these formulations otherwise filled with values such as “independent living”, “family-friendly environment”, etc. they raised the most serious question for me – is it possible that there would be a “family-friendly environment” in such a home? My categorical answer is NO. Where did the paradox come from? In my opinion, the contradictions between the family and the environment in such housing come from several places:
- Promotion. We, the parents, always tell our children that they are beautiful as they are. That they are invaluable, unique, talented and help them develop their best. The fact that Petya, Toshko, Eli and Maria are in wheelchairs does not make them anything inferior. It’s just a feature, as is the fact that I wear myopia lenses and others are low, tall, bald or red. Look, I would be more worried about people getting on too expensive cars to nourish their self-esteem with horsepower than to travel comfortably. In such cases, I prefer wheelchairs because they compensate for the physical, not the spiritual, disability. These children should be seen as personalities, not disabilities. However, why do they unite exactly on the principle of “physical disability” in a sheltered home? And the emphasis on physical mobility or specificity is institutional rather than family-type. I think the interaction between the team and the “consumers” in such a home is crucial for the big goal: to help these young people become independent, to build self-esteem and self-confidence and, above all, to know that they are equal to all of us.
- Terminology. I have already mentioned the term “service users” and it is precisely used for young people in sheltered homes. It appears that the strong link between the ‘providers’ and ‘consumers’ of the ‘sheltered home’ service lies on a purely legal basis. Children selected from a social home to be moved (a bit like objects!) to a sheltered home must be eligible to be 18 years of age and to may serve themselves. They pay a fee for their stay in the sheltered home from their pensions and receive ‘care’, which refers to their physical integrity, food and sleeping. Attendance at school, art and occupational therapy and, in some cases, counseling by a psychologist are guaranteed. So far so good, but what I lack in the legal framework and only the heart can give is the mutual respect and trust between educators and children. It is that fine line that cannot be written in methodologies and regulations, but differs essentially the institutional care from the family care. And this attitude lies mainly in the human and professional qualities of the team. Somehow, I am worried that trade and contractual relations, but not human, are guaranteed between “supplier” and “consumer”. Moreover, from a purely professional point of view, good practices negate any attachment between a client and an expert, in order to maintain the objectivity of the therapeutic work and to avoid the client’s dependence on the assisting professional.
- Love. What is the power that makes a child grow up? Love is the only answer. When there is an existential minimum of food, water and shelter, one can exist. But in order to grow physically, spiritually and mentally, a child must feel love. There are parents who hug their children extremely often and those who are not very inclined to do so. But all good parents express their love in their own way and this makes the children feel strong, self-confident and supported. And family means just that – belonging and support. Of course, love can be given not only by the biological parent. Sometimes an environment of good people and friends, teachers and educators can give that vital feeling. A more luxurious environment in a sheltered home does not mean that emotionally children feel well if they are not loved and respected. Then, what exactly brings a sheltered home from a “facility for the placement of physically disabled children” to a “family”?
- Roots and wings. In such a vertical projection, I see the most important thing the family gives. Roots – to know who you are and what you stand for, and wings – to fly. In this sense, the most important function of sheltered homes is to find a way to bring children with disabilities closer to the community, grow up in institutions, and make them dream rather than fear. When a young man is ready to leave the Protected Home to be on his own – he signs that he is choosing this path and it can already be said that the community really did him a favor – he became independent. However, what happens in these “sheltered homes” may look completely different. Very often, the words “there is no way, no way, no way” on the part of the team dominate the search and giving opportunities. Thus sheltered home can become a mere prison with elements of luxury and a frosty atmosphere inside. And most of the “stars” on the facade would hypothetically cause the threat that those who “don’t listen” could be moved to a “home for the elderly with disabilities.” For such a “service”, guaranteed by our taxes, I feel neither my conscience pure nor my heart light.
- Protection or barriers. I also think about the meaning of the word “Sheltered Home”. Protected from what is it? It gives me a sense of fear of living life and all its hardships – as if it were a jungle from which anyone should protect you at all costs. Yes, but this is exactly the life that makes us the people we are. Our daily struggles, loves, pleasures, failures, successes, mistakes are the fabric of our lives. I have the feeling that the excessive “sterilization” of being in the so-called ZZ raises barriers, sometimes insurmountable to enter reality. So, the “sheltered home” service starts to sound like “protection against life”, and that pretty much distorts the idea.
In the Methodology for the work of family-type housing published on the website of the ASA reads:
“The organization and structuring of work in a sheltered home is based on the belief that all people are free and equal. Free to make their choice and equal to exercise it with the help of specialists.
In a sheltered home, people need to be stimulated as co-authors and owners of their personal development strategies to restore their self-confidence, to feel secure and protected in a supportive environment.”
Very well, but I will not believe that this happens without the love that gives root and wings, and while people are called “consumers”.
Hence the question:
DO WE REALLY DE-INSTITUTE, BUILD PROTECTED AND FAMILY-type HOUSES? … OR DO WE MAKE MORE PUBLIC MONEY FOR MORE LUXURY INSTITUTIONS?
These are just my thoughts in seeking to answer the question of whether truly sheltered homes are a “family-type” place, whether they are de- or just re-institutionalization. In more expensive, lacquered packaging and without the family claim.
I continue to believe in the values of independent living and the opportunity that the state of obligation has to give to people in institutions to choose where and with whom to live, what to study and work. This kind of policy comes out cheaper as a taxpayer tool, but it really does make a living. In the only form this word has – personal and independent.
Our right to choose where and how to live is inviolable. However, the ability to make this choice must be guaranteed to us. And here the state is on the move.