Living and making decisions independently, in a real community. It's so natural for us healthy people. But not at all for our fellow human beings with disabilities. The training materials developed and the professionals trained in the PODIUM project, implemented under the Erasmus+ programme, seek to help them, so that they can live in a caring environment instead of a home care, and become the members of the local community.

Instead of a care home, a caring environment

Deinstitutionalisation. First it sounds very formal, but what it actually means is that it can help people with disabilities find smaller, more family-like homes instead of large residential institutions, sometimes accommodating as many as seven hundred people. It does not only require the necessary physical environment, but also trained professionals who can manage deinstitutionalisation (DI), being familiar with the international best practices and experiences, having mastered the necessary paradigm shift and professional expertise, and understood the entirety of the process.

The PODIUM project was implemented between 2015 and 2018, with the above-mentioned goal and in international cooperation. Funded by the Erasmus+ programme, the Equal Opportunities of Persons with Disabilities Non-profit Ltd. (FSZK), the ELTE Bárczi Gusztáv Faculty of Special Needs Education and the Faculty of Social Sciences launched a partnership of Hungarian, Serbian, Slovenian, Romanian and Danish professionals. The first step was to train the trainers who will prepare the colleagues involved in deinstitutionalisation.

Within the project, training courses for DI managers were organised in the four partner countries. The pilot courses were preceded by the development of a detailed training material and its adaptation in all the four countries, with the involvement of all the partners. The Danish partner organisation - since, unlike the Central European region, it has several years' experience in the field - ensured the trainers the necessary professional competences and approach in a training course, so the first DI managers have already obtained their diplomas.

In Hungary, the consortium leader FSZK has trained,  in an accredited adult education course, 20 DI managers, who can be the pioneers of the further training courses and the DI process in Hungary.

Apart from that, the professionals of the future generation - would-be special education teachers and social educators - can acquire the knowledge and mindset indispensable for the DI process at ELTE: in the first semester, still during the implementation period of the project, 31 students completed the course called 'Introduction to the theory and practice of supported living".

At the foreign consortium partners, similarly to FSZK's training courses in Hungary, 20-20-20 DI managers were trained as part of the PODIUM project in Slovenia, Serbia and Romania.

Instead of a serving attitude, a supportive approach is needed

For a better understanding of the significance of the issue, I interviewed Assistant Professor Dr. István Sziklai, expert of the deinstitutionalisation process in Hungary, about the professional and methodological background.

How many people with disabilities live in institutions in Hungary today?

According to the 2017 figures of KSH (Central Statistical Office), over 24,000 people with disabilities live in some kind of institution. The number of larger institutions accommodating over 50 residents is nearly 160. On average, they provide accommodation to 90-115 people, but the largest social institution, for example, has over 700 residents! It's needless to say how much more comfortable the houses and apartments developed within the deinstitutionalisation process, typically accommodating 12 people, are, and how much more independence they ensure to residents.

What new competences, compared to former ones, does it require from professionals?

Deinstitutionalisation requires more independence from the professionals themselves, too, as well as a better understanding of the intentions and motivations of the person supported. Instead of the attitude of a carer, serving people with disabilities, we need a more powerful, supportive approach, relying on and maintaining and developing the existing abilities and skills.

Was the paradigm shift within the profession necessary?

Disability professionals have long been committed to a paradigm shift. For them, it's this very change of attitude that presents a challenge, and that's why they need training. That's where the PODIUM project comes into the picture, so that our fellow professionals can find out about international best practices and exchange experiences on an ongoing basis.

For a person with disabilities, what changes and opportunities may life outside the institution bring?

For people with disabilities who have been socialised in a more closed, institutional environment, quite a lot; in fact, using public transport, shopping or managing administrative affairs are all more or less new challenges to them. Their social relationships also change: they will have more and different relationships with their neighbours and those living in the host city, town or village. Of course, the professionals try to prepare the residents for all this. For those leaving an institution, the world opens up, and we are extremely glad to see the tiniest and plainest signs of it, for example, when they simply move more freely, or when they find a job. 


Getting ideas from other countries' examples

Mária Losonczi and Csilla Cserti-Szauer, associates of the ELTE Bárczi Gusztáv Faculty of Special Needs Education, had this to say about the after-effects of the PODIUM project:

"The project allowed us to develop targeted and modern training materials, focusing on one of the most important disability issue - self-determination, including supported decision-making and supported accommodation. It's an added value that the two faculties of ELTE have been working in close cooperation ever since, developing a common language for the two specialist fields."

In Denmark, the issue of deinstitutionalisation has been in focus for decades. I asked Bálint Borbás of FSZK, Project Coordinator of PODIUM, who worked towards success together with Miklós Szentkatolnay, about the best practices which the Danish partner shared with the other participants:

"Throughout the project, we often envied the Danish professionals, because what for us - in Hungary or in the neighbouring countries - seemed but a distant vision about deinstitutionalisation, was everyday reality for them. On the other hand, there's also an advantage in following others at a few steps' distance, because this way we can learn from their experiences and difficulties and spare ourselves some unnecessary steps and struggles. Due to the Danish partner, we didn't only learn about best practices, but they also told us what had caused the biggest problem at the beginning of the deinstitutionalisation process in Denmark: they moved people with disabilities into smaller homes even before the supporting services were in place in their environment, which led to very serious consequences. Having learnt from their example, the Hungarian deinstitutionalisation professionals - including the DI managers trained within the PODIUM project, who have since become active players of the deinstitutionalisation process - can already pay attention to that."

In the Eastern Central European countries, this process is still in its infancy in many places, which makes the achievements of the project even more important. The consortium partners have mutually shared a lot of good examples with each other, and thus received inspiration and specific practical advice on how to improve their own national deinstitutionalisation processes and social service systems.


Last modified: 24-07-2020