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‘It’s important to have experience, to work with kids that have special needs’

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Helen Oshikoya

Helen Obiageli Oshikoya is the Founder/CEO of Nobelova Gradani PsychoEducational Services. A member of the Nigerian Bar Association since 1991, she holds a Master’s degree in Social Science from the UK consisting of child development, clinical and learning assessments and other areas of social sciences that require mental health expertise. With a wealth of experience in children’s rights, she has been the foremost advocate for several campaigns involving the Rights of the Nigerian child developmental screening at birth. A member of the Nigerian Psychological Association, British Psychological Society and American Psychological Association, she is also a Certified Autism Specialist who is certified to perform both clinical and educational assessments. In this interview with GERALDINE AKUTU, she talked about her work and other issues.

What inspired you to set up Nobelova Gradani PsychoEducational Services?
After practicing Nobelova Gradani was set up with the aim of providing mental health services to the average Nigerian. You will find out that a lot of us are mentally ill but are functioning. Apart from adults being mentally ill, there are lots of children who are mentally ill. Our work is to detect such individuals, provide treatment and intervention and make sure they have a good quality of life. The whole process starts with screening. We screen children to ensure they are not at any risk of mental condition. Before I came into the industry, we have such but it was only in psychiatric hospital. What we have done since we came into existence is to come out of the psychiatric hospital and go into the communities to ensure that people have access to mental healthcare. We were able to achieve this through qualified personnel. It is basically through our project known as “Every Teacher Should Be Trained in Special Education.” Inclusion is the face of education.

The focal point is, teachers have to be able to detect a child with additional needs or mental health issues. Currently, we are working with the Corona Trust Council and one of the core areas of concentration of Corona School’s Trust Fund is to prepare for the future. Also, part of it is preparing teachers to embrace inclusive education. In order to prepare for the future, there must be trained teachers who can identify this problem. Schools like Heritage Schools, Footsteps, Role Model, Riveroaks, Surestart, King School, Tots and Cots Betty’s, Oakwood, Playhouse, Estaport Discovery House, Toddler Tree and a host of others have enrolled their teachers in early intervention services. Those schools are now equipped to set up early intervention unit to assist the children within their capacity. I have gone further to partner with two education institutions (International Board of Educational Standard (IBEC) and Vector Solutions Exceptional Child in the United States. Vector Solutions Exceptional Child is an online platform that provides evident-based courses to deal with inclusive education and together with Corona College of Education at Ilupeju to conduct teachers training face to face with the teachers.

Since last year, in Corona Trust, we have trained over 300 teachers and we still have another 150 to go. In total, we have almost 2000 teachers in Lagos State that are already qualified to work with children and we are open to train more in additional needs.

In the United States, 80 per cent of the schools have children with additional needs and it’s becoming more apparent your institute will always have such children. In Nigeria, I discovered that we practice segregation and that is not good. Our certificates are validated by the Lagos State Ministry of Education to certify that those trained are qualified to do the work.

What are the challenges on ground?
The market is full of quacks and schools are not dedicated enough to children with special needs to make sure that those quacks have qualifications. So, what usually happens is that a child with additional needs comes to school and the school asks you to bring somebody to look after the child. So, basically they are shifting their duty of care to the parents, not bearing in mind that it is their responsibility to take care of that child while in school. As a result of this, you will see freelancers in the market posing as qualified people.

Schools are not ready to conform because they are not ready to do the job. So, they just bring anybody that knows nothing about how to handle these special children. To be able to do this job effectively, it is important to have the experience and certificate of competency to work with children that have special needs. Also, parents should not just look for anybody but go to a registered company that can provide such services. Schools should verify who works with the children.

They should also start grooming their own, look for teachers that are qualified and send them for training or employ teachers that are already trained in that area and pay them well.

What is Child Find all about?
Child Find is an initiative all over the world. In America, Child Find is in the legislation.

There is a concept known as Leave No Child Behind. What it means is that we have a responsibility as members of the community to identify children that requires assistance, get them assisted or direct them to where they can get assistance. The church also has a role to play in this. For instance, if a child has mental issues, he or she has to be properly assessed and other necessary things done. As a trained person in the community, you make friends with parents of such children and advise them on what to do. But how can you identify and give professional advise to parents of such children if you are not trained. If we become aware as a society, we will be able to help those children with additional needs. No parents should be afraid to take their children to the school and no school should reject children because of disability. I think schools that don’t have trained teachers that can handle such children, there are lists of places that render such services you can refer the parents to. So, no child should be left at home but should be in school despite the challenges.

How has the journey been so far?
It wasn’t so easy at first because we had the challenges of getting the right people to work with but, over the years, I have found a way to overcome those challenges. Also, with time some schools began to understand the need for inclusive education. We have received tremendous acceptance. We have trained so many schools in different parts of the country and if more schools engage us to help to train teachers who will be eligible to take care of children with additional needs and parents of these children co-operate, we can do more to help those children.

How do you combine home-front and work?
My children are grown and have been very supportive. Also, I have an accommodating husband who understands the nature of my job and has backed me all the way. When I am overloaded with work, all my children are always willing to help to see to it that that my work does not suffer. Aside this work, I still do legal matters as a practicing lawyer but it has to do with child right infringement or people whose rights has been infringed upon as a result of their mental status. For instance, if somebody is sacked as a result of mental issue, we look at the circumstances to see if it is a threat or not. If the person has been checked by a psychiatrist, and fit to work despite the mental health status, as long as the person does not pose as a threat to the company and it does not affect the output, the person should be allowed to work.

So, I fight for the right of such people. It has been awesome and I am grateful for being blessed with a wonderful family.

Advice to parents of children with special needs
Parents should ensure that their children are properly diagnosed and a licensed company that handles such issue comes in to assist. Also schools should make sure that trained and certified or licensed service providers handle those children in order to get the services they require. Also, schools should monitor those who handle such children.

QUOTE: Schools should verify who works with the children. They should also start grooming their own, look for teachers that are qualified and send them for training or employ teachers that are already trained in that area and pay them well

QUOTE: No child should be left at home; they should be in school despite the challenges


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