How do we support children, youth and their caregivers in challenging situations? In the context of our series of posts on legal advice , we examine a specific example of a girl with disabilities whose lesson time had been reduced due to a lack of financial resources.
Not only children and youth but also their caregivers can report their experiences at any time by using the link childrensombudsoffice.ch to receive legal support. Our experts advise and assist them in safeguarding their rights.
Sarah, the girl whose situation we describe below, was one of those children able to take advantage of our legal advice and receive crucial support.
Early diagnosis and an appropriate school setting
Sarah was always different. She showed little interest in other children, preferring to play on her own. She could lose herself in her animal books for hours on end. Her responses during group activities were characterised by fear or agitation. A detailed evaluation soon confirmed the suspicions of her parents and teachers: Sarah is afflicted with an autism spectrum disorder. Based on this diagnosis, she was placed in a special educational setting.
In this environment, individual time was dedicated to Sarah and her special needs could be accommodated. The girl was beginning to blossom, and after experiencing moments of considerable anguish, she and her entire family were able to feel more at ease.
A move involving a painful surprise
Sarah was 12 years old when a family relocation forced her to change schools. In their new home, the family was surprised and distressed to learn that the local school did not have the financial resources that would permit Sarah to be taught in the manner of her previous school setting. She was now allowed to attend school only two days per week instead of the previous five-day arrangement. She was directed to remain at home on the other days. Sarah’s mother immediately contacted the school in an attempt to find a solution, but the school’s hands were tied due to the close monitoring that Sarah would require.
Sarah learned about the Ombuds Office Children's Rights from her therapist. She called us directly to describe her circumstances and her feelings of helplessness. Our experts explained that the school’s procedures were in violation of several of her rights: since school administrators had never spoken with Sarah and had provided her no justification for the reduced instructional time, her right to be heard and to express her own views and her right to information had been violated. In addition, under the right to non-discrimination, Sarah has the same right to an education as that possessed by non-disabled children, which translates into a right to attend school five days per week.
How we helped Sarah
In consultation with Sarah, the Ombuds Office Children's Rights sought as a first step to discuss the matter with the school. While its administrators regretted the situation in principle and expressed their willingness to cooperate, they reiterated the lack of financial and therefore human resources to meet Sarah’s special educational needs. Our experts next contacted the Child and Adult Protection Authority (KESB), which arranged for the allocation of financial resources to cover Sarah’s special setting in the regular school. The essential goal for Sarah is that she must once more be allowed to attend school five days per week as she had previously done, in part to benefit from the inclusion of contact with other children her age and so that her development can be supported by trained special educators.
The application of children’s rights
This example describes how we were able to assist Sarah by informing her of her rights and providing her with legal advice and intermediation. While gaining an awareness that girls and women with disabilities are frequently subjected to discrimination in a variety of ways, Sarah was able to claim her rights in this situation. Her achievement helped her to experience self-efficacy and learn how to build resilience.
*Names and descriptions have been changed to protect participants’ rights to anonymity and privacy.