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The Cultured Societies of the South Pacific Small Island Nations and its Effects to Current Issues and Practices Relating to Early Intervention Services

Focus Area:            Early Intervention

Laisani Radio

Course Coordinator

University of the South Pacific

P O Box 805

Nakasi

Fiji Islands

(679) 3412252

radiolai @ yahoo.com

Early Intervention Services for visually impaired children around the small Island nations of the Pacific Region, vary in dynamics, in establishment, development and progress. The different beliefs, values and traditions, as well as the wide range of socio-economic and political realities, affect the different services.

This paper will highlight, focus on and summerise some of my current and past findings, training and consultative experiences including interviews with existing service providers.   The paper will represent 12 member countries of the University of the South Pacific based in Suva, Fiji Islands.

The small island nations of the South Pacific are groups of high islands or atolls scattered over a vast area of ocean.  All are thinly populated ranging from 5,000 – 900,000.  The islands lie between 18 deg. North of the Equator and the tropic of Capricorn and the climate, vegetation and produce are tropical.  (Overhead - map locations)

CURRENT SERVICE ASPECTS

Early intervention has gained momentum over the past 2 decades despite the shortage of resources and limited access to educational facilities.  Service organisation, non-government, religious entities and international counterparts have played major roles in the historical development and establishment of services.

The most common service delivery model throughout the region is through voluntary and non-government organisations.  The government contribution comes in the form of financial grants, human resources, equipment and the like but government plays a very minimal role or none at all in the management of the organisation.

Services Available around the Pacific Islands (Table) Overhead


Programme Components and Implementation


Sometimes early childhood teachers, community workers, nurses or doctors will notice when observing children, that they are delayed in their development.  Those who are aware of early intervention programmes will take the initiative to refer the child for services. Parents, due to lack of experience and awareness or the fact that the disability is hidden may notice until very late stage that their child is not developing at the rate of their other children or similar aged peers. 

Identification, referral and diagnosis for appropriate service lacks in many ways in our nations. There are very few professionals such as psychologist, speech pathologist/therapist, physiotherapist or occupational therapists available to provide professional input in most countries.  Instead of the multi-disciplinary assessment team (specialist), interagency and grassroots workers collaboration for input is sought for the child’s best training programme and placement.  This is done in the most simple and adapted formats.

Teachers, caregivers, rehabilitation workers, community workers or volunteers are trained on an adhoc basis to provide the direct services.  With limited training background, resources, facilities and expertise, most workers shows dedication and commitment to maintain the existence of services in their organisations. 


Staff Training and Development


Early Intervention Training as mentioned earlier is provided on an adhoc basis through the generosity of international donors and varies from country to country. Trainers are professionals either local or from overseas who are funded by donor organisations.

Its over a decade since a regional initiative on Early Intervention training, was sponsored by the Australian Aid to complement existing efforts within the school and organisations. The Fiji based Early Intervention Centre for developmentally delayed children was set-up as the Pacific model centre for training, mobilisation of resources and expertise for the island nations. Since the funding and consultancy was exhausted within the 3-year phase there is no regional umbrella resource for the Pacific at the moment.

Routinely workshops are provided by the organisations’s initiative, and funding availability, these vary from country to country. Frequent turnover of staff demands re-training and in some cases training is extended to parents, preschool teachers, community workers, social and women’s group.

CONSTRAINTS PERTAINING TO COUNTRY INFRASTRUCTURE

These islands nations within a vast expanse of sea are vulnerable to various forms of natural disasters, a high degree of economic and environmental changes and limited natural resources in conjunction with geographical remoteness.

The Unicef report 1997 states that “Children in some Pacific countries suffer from the highest rates of Vitamin A Deficiency in the world.  In other Pacific countries one in 4 children under the age of 5 is underweight for their age.  The links between poverty, poor living condition,  poor nutrition and ill-health show up most with children.  Children in poor households most often are deprived of educational, social, medical care and a reasonable standard of living.  Special needs children are further disadvantage due to lack of services.               

The formation of an interdisciplinary team to design individualised programme, that facilitate developmental growth, requires creative service planning and coordination.  Children with special needs are further disadvantaged when they cannot access any form of services. Thus teachers or caregivers have to learn as much as they can and be creative in their approaches and use of resources, to help children who live far away from service centres.

Challenges in Service Delivery

The provision of services provided by the Community Based Rehabilitation and community workers are geared to provide the relevant and appropriate programs but in many instances, the type of programs which are developed lack sufficient comprehensiveness and intensity to benefit the individual for whom those services are designed. There is a problematic discrepancy which exists between the recipient (child), the right to appropriate programming and the lack of sophistication in current service delivery mechanism

Early intervention workers need to be supported within the existing Sp.Ed. System. The high turnover of staff reflects problems within management organisation structure.  Staff training, incentive and professional to assist direct service in programme implementation is necessary.  Effective, productive and quality services can only be obtained if the following points are addressed:

·       Frequent turnover of staff leading to inconsistent programming

·       Teachers and Trainers to not get the support from the service provider for eg. Workshop and training depends on availability of funding

·       Resources, wages and working conditions must be made more attractive

·       Shortage of expertise for advice, training & general support

·       On going training

·       Outdated laws, policies 

·       No legal mandate that is specific to direct services, government will need to play a prominent role

Changing attitudes is important if the needs of visually impaired children are to be addressed.

Even though meaningful laws which ensure a free appropriate education for children with special need are found in special Acts in different countries, parents teachers, administrators, and attorneys must still work together to achieve optimal results. 

In promoting good laws and policy relating to services there must be an empowering legal environment which we greatly lack.

Ongoing Support, Multi-Disciplinary Collaboration for Programme Sustainability

There is a great amount of skill and coordination needed in the initial development plan for the child to benefit and in many cases it is not delivered as prescribed.  Potential for development and growth exist within each individual but the opportunity for optimal development need to be provided and the following issues have been raised for consideration in sustaining services:

List of references:

Pacific Human Development Report 1999. Creating Opportunities. United Nations Development Programme

Fiji Disabled People Association and I.J.A.L.S Disability Law and Policy. Fiji Report 1997.

State of Pacific Youth Report 1998. Unicef

Resources for Disability Caregiver, Continuing Education, University of the South Pacific 2001


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