The fourth international “Every Child Deserves a Family” forum, which is organised every year by the Naked Heart Foundation, has just come to an end in Moscow. For the first time in the forum’s history, over half of this year’s participants were foster parents and parents of children with conditions such as autism, Down’s syndrome, learning disabilities and other developmental disorders. Parents are the first to be informed about their child’s diagnosis and it is they who decide what to do next. A lot depends on them. And, as international experience shows, parents constitute the driving force behind positive changes in society.
Naked Heart founder Natalia Vodianova: “We are here to inspire other parents not to remain silent. Our mission is to raise awareness among the community and among parents. What we are doing is vital because those in power will have no choice but to listen to us. And for that to happen, we must believe in this process and to show that we are strong”.
Four days of lectures, seminars and master classes were held in the conference rooms of the AZIMUT Moscow Olympic Hotel and all related to the overarching theme of: “Parents and professionals: Cooperation with purpose”. More than 800 people from 85 towns and 12 countries took part in the forum. For many of the parents taking part, it was the first time they had been involved in such a large-scale event. The forum events included simultaneous interpreting and over 70 hours of video content were posted online. Those videos can be viewed on the forum’s dedicated Youtube channel.
Natalia Vodianova addressed the participants at the opening ceremony, saying: “We have come together here to show that you are not alone. More and more of us are speaking out every day. More and more parents are starting to believe that they can cope with this situation, and not only that, but that these children will bring joy and richness to their lives”.
The forum was opened by actress, TV presenter and mother of a child with Down’s syndrome Evelina Bledans: “I am proud of the fact that I am the mother of a child with special needs. And I am proud for good reason – this child was meant to be part of my family so that I could improve not only his life, but the lives of all children with disabilities”. Watch the video of the opening of the forum here [Russian].
In parallel to the forum sessions, there was a round table event on access to education for children with special needs, with the participation of Deputy Minister of Education and Science of the Russian Federation Veniamin Kaganov, parents of children with special needs and foster children, as well as experts and Naked Heart founder Natalia Vodianova.
Veniamin Kaganov: “Absolutely everyone would like to give children with special needs the opportunity to be educated – not only those working to support those children but also teachers and parents. It will be difficult to move from a situation in which society does not want to recognise the issue to a situation in which we can open doors within just one or two years, but these children cannot wait. Therefore we are doing our absolute best to move in that direction as quickly as possible, with the help of society”. Watch the video of the round table here [Russian].
The forum also included the now well-established round table with leading Russian mass media representatives. This time they met with parents of children with disabilities. The “Don’t be silent” round table event was attended by Naked Heart founder Natalia Vodianova, singer Dima Bilan, actress appearing in Bilan’s “Don’t be silen” (“Ne molchi”) music video Mila Kirillova, actor Evgeny Kulakov, editor-in-chief of L’Officiel magazine Ksenia Sobchak, presenter Sergei Belogolvtsev, director of the Kommersant Academy of Journalism Elena Korovina and TV presenters Sofiko Shevardnadze, Svetlana Zeynalovaand Svetlana Sorokina. Many of the media representatives were aware of the situation of children relating to disabilities not through hearsay but because they themselves were the parents or relatives of such children. A video of the discussion can be found here.
The presentations and master classes offered this year covered the following topics: support for parents raising children with autism spectrum disorders; systemic support for families with children with special needs and foster families; and how to cope with behavioural difficulties in adolescents with autism. There were also presentations by participants in the Naked Heart project “Summer with Purpose” and specialists who had received training organised by the Foundation under the EarlyBird programme.
The speakers included: director of the EarlyBird Centre at the UK National Autistic Society Jo Stevens; doctor of psychology Robin Gabriels (University of Colorado in Denver, USA); professor of child neurology and paediatrics John Phillips (University of New Mexico); and other foreign and Russian specialists. All the experts flew to Moscow and presented on a completely pro-bono basis.
The experts responsible for the content of the forum were highly respected Russian child development specialists, including: director of the Centre for Curative Pedagogics Anna Bitova; director of Perspektivy (“Perspectives”) charity Maria Ostrovskaya; head of the “Pro-Mama” centre Maria Ternovskaya; Naked Heart experts Svyatoslav Dovbnya (child neurologist) and Tatiana Morozova (clinical psychologist); and teacher, head of the legal team and chairman of the board at the Centre for Curative Pedagogics, Roman Dimenstein.