Seventh international Every Child Deserves a Family forum on early intervention programmes attracts hundreds of specialists from eight countries

VII forum

On 17 October, the seventh international “Every Child Deserves a Family” forum – an annual event organised by the Naked Heart Foundation with the participation of leading child development experts from Russia and beyond – drew to a close in Moscow. The event was attended by more than 500 participants from eight countries and 90 towns and cities. Among them were specialists and parents from all over Russia and from a wide range of organisations that provide support to children with developmental disabilities, their families and foster and adoptive families. The opening ceremony was led by Russian TV presenter Yulia Baranovskaya.

This year’s forum focused on the important and very relevant topic of early intervention programmes. International research has shown that children achieve the best results if specialist support is provided from an early age, with the involvement of family members and other people close to the child. Early intervention programmes are required to ensure that such support is made available to all children. However, specialists and parents often lack the necessary knowledge and practical skills. The forum allows participants from all over Russia to acquire up-to-date knowledge and learn about all the latest developments in the area of early intervention free of charge.

“Every year there is increasing interest in the Every Child Deserves a Family forum, and every year we meet more and more like-minded people – this area is developing, and an increasing number of people share our conviction that we can change the situation relating to training specialists and parents of children with special needs. And most importantly, we are already seeing gradual changes in society – attitudes towards people with disabilities are changing. Specialists in the provinces are finding out about evidence-based methods and children with special needs have more opportunities to enjoy life, go to kindergarten and school, get an education and live the same life as their typically developing peers.” — Naked Heart Foundation founder Natalia Vodianova.

During the forum, participants familiarised themselves with modern and effective early intervention programmes and discussed the development of a professional community in Russia.

On 16 October, a round table event on “Family support – investing in the future” and led by Natalia Vodianova took place alongside the Forum’s main programme. The open discussion, moderated by Marianna Maksimovskaya, was attended by representatives from charitable and voluntary organisations and parents of children with disabilities.

The following people took part in the round table discussion: Elena Alshanskaya, President of “Volunteers to support orphans”; Natalia Zlobina, President of Vykhod Foundation in Belgorod, which works with children with autism; Elena Klochko, Chair of the Council of Russian Organisations of Parents of Children with Disabilities (BORDI); Svyatoslav Dovbnya, child neurologist and Naked Heart expert, Natalia Rodikova, Editor-in-Chief of Domashny Ochag magazine; Olga Ushakova, presenter on Russia’s Channel 1; and Anaida Ivanova, Director of Development at EDexpert magazine.

Over the course of three days, leading experts from Russia and beyond shared their knowledge relating to early intervention.

For example, the following topics were presented for the first time in Russia: Professor Erin Barton from Vanderbilt University in the United States reviewed the current state of early intervention programmes. Her presentations focused on how to establish the effectiveness and select the best early intervention programmes for the family and the child.

The subject of modern and effective support programmes to address feeding difficulties in children with autism and other developmental disorders was discussed by Doctor of Psychology Valerie Volkert, who works in the Department of Paediatrics at Emory University and at the Marcus Autism Centre in the USA. Dr Volkert is a leading specialist and researcher in the area of eating disorders in children with developmental disabilities.

Dr Dana Johnson from the Faculty of Neonatology and Paediatrics at the University of Minnesota and Professor of Psychology Christine Puckering from the University of Glasgow, along with Russian experts, discussed the importance of the early years of a child’s life; attachment and the significance of the family; early brain development and plasticity; neurobiological principles of early intervention; and early intervention programmes for foster and adopted children, their families and socially vulnerable families.

There were also lectures by Russian participants and master classes on early intervention programmes for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). In particular, Professor of Special Education and Rehabilitation at Utah State University and Director of the ASSERT programme Dr Thomas Higbee delivered a master class on the development of play skills in children with autism, and founder of the UK’s EarlyBird programme, Jo Stevens, ran a session on support programmes for children with ASD who suffer from sleep disorders.

Russian and foreign specialists took part in a workshop focusing on work with children with severe and complex disabilities and their families and shared their knowledge about evidence-based programmes and how they can be applied in Russia. The following people spoke at the workshop: professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at the University of New Mexico Marybeth Barkocy, speech therapist, augmentative and alternative communication specialist from the centre for children with complex disabilities and visual impairment at the University of New Mexico Jessica Matney and other specialists from Russian and beyond.

All the experts, including those from overseas, took part in the event on a completely pro-bono basis, at the invitation of the Naked Heart Foundation.

One of the main objectives of the event is to provide a platform for communication and exchange of experience between Russian and international specialists, NGO representatives and members of parents’ associations. The forum includes round tables, press conferences and informal discussions for all the participants.

The forum takes place on an annual basis, giving participants the opportunity to regularly find out about the work of their Russian and foreign colleagues and facilitating the development of a professional community in Russia.

Since 2012, more than 4,500 people from around 150 towns and 22 countries have attended lectures and seminars delivered by around 500 different speakers at the Every Child Deserves a Family forum.

Participation in the forum, accommodation in Moscow and subsistence are absolutely free of charge for parents and the specialists selected to take part in the forum. The specialists’ organisations will pay only for their travel to Moscow.

Media partners: Russia 24, Sotsialny Navigator, Rossiya Segodnya, Domashny Ochag

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