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Oldham Council is thought to be the first local authority in the country to help children abroad with learning disa...
Oldham Council is thought to be the first local authority in the country to help children abroad with learning disabilities.
In a unique visit to Belarus in February members from Oldham's social services department, with a BBC film crew, visited the Gomel region of the country, to see how the English local authority's expertise could help Belarussian children in need.
The visit has been documented in a special documentary to be screened by BBC's Close Up North programme. And will be shown on Thursday, 1 March at 7.30pm on BBC2.
The country received most of the fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear power station in 1986 resulting in children experiencing a whole host of illnesses today.
During a five day visit the group met with various Government officials, and travelled to several institutions to see how disabled children are looked after by the authorities.
The purpose of the visit which was privately funded, was to open up a link to provide consultation and training to people in Belarus so that they can develop their own community-based care for the children.
The programme covers the visit by following three Oldham Social Services staff, Bev Maybury, Lilian Nelson and Clare Graham together with committee chair councillor Elaine Joynes, Brenda Nally from the National Autistic Society and Linda Walker from the charity Chernobyl Children's Project (UK). Their experiences and thoughts of meeting families, children and officials and also seeing the crushing poverty and devastation that has resulted from the nuclear accident are recorded in a moving programme.
Councillor Joynes said that she was pleased to have been invited to see at first hand the problems facing the families and children and she found it both moving and an eye opener meeting with the Belarussian families and authorities.
'Oldham Council has always placed a high priority on helping people with learning disabilities to develop and improve their lives. We have been progressively developing our services to meet the needs of our community with a dynamic and committed team of Social Services officers. The work theyhaveone in this area, has been recognised nationally as progressive and forward thinking.
'This, and Oldham's track record in helping people in other countries before has made it possible for us to embark on this project. We recognise that we cannot use Council Tax money to help others abroad but we can help by providing the opportunity for others to see how it can be done and offer training to achieve change,' she said.
Executive director of social services Gwylfa Evans outlined that the visit was due to pioneering work Oldham has carried out with people with Autism and other challenging behaviour.
'The visit was on humanitarian grounds as the beginning of a process to develop community services similar to those we have successfully developed in Oldham. Sometime in the future professional staff from Belarus will visit Oldham to receive training in the community approach to care.
'This will be achieved by them working alongside staff from Oldham who have gained these skills while working with the National Autistic Society.
'However, before this can happen it is necessary to raise funds to bring them here and provide support for them. The authorities in Belarus have no money and are not able to fund the visit.
'It is intended to approach the EC and the Foreign Office for funding the next stage of this project,' he said.
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