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After sustained campaign, Kerala begins framing rules regarding private therapy centres

January 11, 2019

Faced with a deadline of one week from the Kerala High Court, the Kerala Social Security Mission has finally prepared a draft guideline for the Social Justice Department relating to the management of private therapy centres for disabled children in the state.

The guidelines will set down the standard of services and registration of these centres.

"We need to standardize because we got a lot of complaints relating to lack of qualified therapists, the charges they levy, etc.," said Mohammed Asheel, Executive Director, Kerala Social Security Mission. "To make it a democratic process, we have invited interested therapists to come in for a discussion before framing these guidelines. What we propose may not be acceptable to them but we want to take their views into consideration. The standards should not be so rigid that institutions need to close down but something that is acceptable to all."

The move comes after nearly five years of sustained campaign by parents and professionals pushing for greater monitoring of private therapy centres. Many of them have been under the spotlight for abuse. A group of parents and professionals under the banner Together We Can (TWC), have been pushing for regulation with various state government departments.

When their petitions to the District Child Welfare Committee and Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights went unheard, they approached the High Court in 2017 with a writ petition seeking the formation of a regulatory body and standardization of procedures at therapy centres.

"We have been fighting for this for the last four years," says a happy Preetha Shiva from Kochi. Shiva's 10-year-old son is on the autism spectrum. "At last we have been heard. The government has taken a step forward and we hope the guidelines put an end to the abuse we see at private therapy centres and bring more accountability on their part."

Mixed reactions

Some parents, however, are unhappy that the KSSM has invited interested private therapy centres to discuss the guidelines as well.

"Given that they are at the guilty end, this is a strange move on the government's part," says Padma Pillai, parent to a 14-year-old with autism. Her son suffered abuse at a centre as a child and the experience led Pillai to pull him out of such facilities and learn the skills needed to attend to her son's needs.

"Any step would be welcome, but we expected a little more given that the High Court in its 2016 order talked about creating various committees," says Pillai. "None of that happened and it is only now that the government has come out with these guidelines and that too after pressure. I find it strange that therapy centres should be invited for discussions on forming guidelines when it should be independent therapists, parents and academicians who should be a part of this process. But I guess beggars can't be choosers, so we have to be happy with what we get."

Many private centres have welcomed the government's move. Uma Krishnan, Founder, Abhyaan Centre for Autism, is among those who wants to be involved in framing the new guidelines. "It is true that there are different standards followed by private centres and a lack of professionalism. Having a set guideline that governs all clinics is a good step."

Going ahead, TWC hopes to create a shift in the approach towards disability, one that moves away from the medical model that is currently in use to a rehabilitation model that empowers families of children with disabilities.

"We need to rethink the focus of all therapies, which as of now is so child centric and keeps the family and home environment out while setting goals," points out Seema Lal, Special Educator and Co-founder, TWC. . "We definitely need an inclusive approach with starts with inclusion of the families, a more transparent, ethical and accountable system where our children feel safe, accepted and respected. We need to move from a 'charity perspective' to a 'rights perspective'."

The guideline is just the beginning towards achieving this vision and hopefully having finally taken the first step, the Kerala government will bring in a more inclusive approach.

ALSO READ:Abuse at therapy centres in Kerala under scanner again, government promises redressal

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