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Non-residential summer camp for children and youth with disabilities.

Publication Date: February 21, 2023
Post thumbnail - Non-residential summer camp for children and youth with disabilities.

Non-residential summer camp for children and youth with disabilities is yet another form of respite care services, much needed and eagerly awaited by carers. In the city of Wrocław, such services are provided e.g., by „Potrafię Pomóc” Foundation and IMAGO Foundation.

Summer holidays tend to be a difficult time for carers of children and young people with disabilities. In Poland, the school year ends towards the end of June, and the school doors only open again more than two months later - on the 1st of September. Kindergartens and other facilities for children and young people usually also close for the holiday period. Yet, people who have full-time jobs can only take an average of 26 days off per year. This means that parents of children and young people with disabilities are faced with a difficult situation, especially those raising their child on their own. Parents cannot really afford to skip work for the whole duration of school holidays, and grandparents or relatives are not always able to provide specialist care, which sometimes requires constant supervision and a lot of expert knowledge. Hiring a qualified carer is very expensive, and mostly out of reach for parents of children with disabilities who also need to pay for rehabilitation, therapy, specialised equipment, and are often struggling financially. Thus, finding adequate care options for the summer holiday period tends to be crucial for both parents and permanent carers.

The „Potrafię Pomóc” foundation has been organizing non-residential supper camps for many years. Since 2019, the camp curriculum and schedules have been designed in line with the requirements of children and youth with severe and coexisting disabilities who require the highest level of care. During the enrolment process working parents are given priority. 

A distinctive feature of the non-residential summer camp organized by the foundation involves activities designed for small groups, with one caregiver per two children. The activities and groups are tailored to the participants' abilities and needs, and designed in a way to be as fun as possible!

The summer camp staff includes special educators, therapists and a nurse with ICU qualifications. The Rehabilitation and Education Centre for Exceptional Children in Wrocław, which hosts summer camp activities, is fully adapted to the needs of people with disabilities. The centre has a nurse's office equipped with e.g., an oxygen concentrator, pulse oximeter, BMV resuscitator, suction machine and other specialised equipment.

Zosia, who was born with quadriplegic cerebral palsy, has been participating in the non-residential summer camp activities for many years. Her mother, Agnieszka, is an independent, working parent. In 2019, she talked about the summer camp to a journalist from Wroclaw.pl:

It is an invaluable support for all of us. Zosia is having a great time, participating in special activities such as music therapy, and I have the opportunity to work, run my errands and even have a bit of rest during the holiday season.

Crucially, due to generous support from local authorities, the summer camp activities are offered to participants free of charge, since the project is part of a public task run by the Wrocław City Hall. The camp is open to children and young people aged 2,5 - 24 years, who have a disability certificate/ruling stating their level of disability, and who live or study in Wrocław. In 2022, there were 42 participants in each of two two-week summer camps.

In the summer of 2022, with funding from the Municipality of Wrocław, the Imago Foundation organised its first non-residential summer camp and tested a new formula of such activities, to see how it is received by beneficiaries. It soon turned out that the idea was indeed a success, and the summer camp was fully booked within days.

The non-residential summer camp organised by the Imago Foundation was quite unique, as a large part of activities planned for each day was based on the Adventure Therapy method and taking place outdoors, in the green areas of Wrocław. Adventure Therapy is a method of supporting people with disabilities in their development, which the Imago Foundation has been implementing through transnational cooperation with specialists from Spain and the Czech Republic. The method involves nature-based activities to facilitate the process of creating positive change and personal development for the participants. The activities offered during the non-residential summer camp in Wroclaw's parks and green spaces included elements of social skills training and sociotherapy, but above all else, they challenged participants to exercise their independence, discover their strengths and build their sense of agency. 

Over the summer, The Imago Foundation organized three 5-day camps for 30 young people with disabilities aged between 7 and 26. The camps focused on different themes: two of them combined Adventure Therapy with animal-assisted therapy, and one camp offered both outdoor activities and indoor climbing. Both summer camp formulas met with enthusiastic welcome from both participants and their carers, with the latter having the possibility to work or simply enjoy a short break. Here is what a mother of a teenage participant, Michał, had to say about the climbing camp:

My son learned that he is able to do more that he expected. He is now more willing to take up new challenges. And group activities motivate people to want to do more - if others can do it, so can I.

As the activities on offer involved specialized skills, the summer camp staff included experts professionally involved in animal-assisted therapy (i.e., equine-, dog, alpaca-assisted therapy), therapeutic climbing instructors and Adventure Therapy facilitators with psychological, sociotherapeutic or coaching competences (the so-called Social Skills Training). Summer camp assistants and volunteers also played a vital role, as their company and smiles encouraged the participants to get more involved in the activities.

The last year's edition may have been the first non-residential summer camp organized by the Imago Foundation, but certainly not the last - even now, in the middle of winter, we are thinking about the coming summer and planning 2023 summer camp activities.

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