From the Guardian, this entry into the newspaper's journalism competition profiles one family in Romania who is struggling with a special needs child.
Anisoara sits on the floor of the family's tiny one bedroom apartment, rocking her son Aurel, six, in her arms to stimulate his senses, wincing as he screams out. It is hard to tell whether it is a cry in pleasure or pain, but the physiotherapist has told Anisoara she 'must keep his muscles moving.' A couple of feet away Aurel's elder sister, Gabriela, 10, and uncle Gheorghe sit back-to-back, immersed in what fills the screens of two aging PCs on opposite walls. In tight living conditions they use headphones to preserve a vestige of privacy. Add a dog and Aurel's grandmother, Gheorghita, both on the sofa, and the home becomes a very packed space. However, this is only half of the family. Six nuclear family members, the parents and four children, sleep in the box bedroom while three of the extended family spread across the living room.
Anisoara cannot work because Aurel, one of triplets, requires around the clock care as he suffers from Hydrocephalic quadriplegia, organic epilepsy and optic nerve dystrophy. Her kind of story is common in Romania, where poverty mixed with disability can cripple a family both financially and socially. Achieving quality care for children and those with disabilities can be a lottery as the country battles to rid itself of challenges inherited from the old regime. The country's medical services are impoverished, struggling to cope often with under-trained staff. Either, children can become ignored by carers who are unable to support all everyone allocated to them for care, or there are those who do as little as is expected of them. Despite a massive improvement in conditions in the past 20 years, residents of Romania still have ingrained attitudes and discrimination towards the disabled and the different.
The government has tried to remedy the problem, implementing laws to help its disabled residents and their families, but in reality the funding is inadequate and public perception is still that care financing should be diverted to those who can make a positive contribution to society, rather than improving the standard of living for all. Romanian employers often prefer to pay the penalties of the law rather than employ disabled persons (ANED).
The country is focused on improving the standard of living, where residents' material deprivation by poverty still stands at 85% compared with 26% in the UK (Eurostats). The government is also concerned about the world's perception of the country following the fall of communism in 1989, and the media's discovery of abandoned children and the disabled living in destitute institutions.