We opened the Walker Center for Early Childhood Development in San Lucas, Guatemala in November 2017 to provide the earliest and most effective interventions for those children in orphan care with development delays due to neglect, abuse, and malnutrition.
Through speech, occupational, and physical therapy we fulfill our mission to give children with delays the greatest opportunity for a self-sustaining and fulfilling life. Our therapists help the most profoundly delayed children, and we recently accepted our 100th child into the program. The program is overseen by married psychologists Paola Pichardo de Hurtado and Luis Hurtado, who we have been working with since 2013.
Our primary purpose is to provide quality therapies to children in the homes we serve. We do so in a positive environment through speech, language and emotional therapies, early stimulation and sensory integration. The disorders we have treated include: Expressive Language Disorder (ELD)- Global Development Delay (GDD) – Genetic Language Delays – Environmental Language Delays – Psychomotor Delays – Specific Language Impairment (SLI) – Learning Disorders – Verbal Fluency Disorder – Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD).
We begin with a complete evaluation of each child and continue to work with them and their caregivers until they attain age-appropriate developmental scores.
Therapy is only a few short hours per week, and to see real change it must be augmented by a positive home environment. Therefore, we provide monthly training to the in-home psychologists, social workers and caregivers. It is not a secret that Guatemala is years behind in the field of psychology. Our staff have master’s degrees, years of experience and have received training from professionals in Latin America and the United States. We use these targeted trainings to improve the quality of care in our partner homes.
Every child deserves a family, and our efforts follow the children into their forever family whenever possible. 13 of the 160 children helped by the Walker Center since 2017 have been adopted which is unheard of for a child with a disability. Our team has worked with 5 of those families after the adoption. We offer a wraparound team approach. We provide a team focus to ensure a successful adoption by:
- Helping the family fully understand the child’s emotional and developmental challenges.
- Sharing the therapy plan with the family and providing training for continued progress.
- Helping the family and child bond with each other.
- Helping the adoptive family understand the child’s background and trauma.
The average time spent with a family post adoption is 1 year. It is the long-term goal of our directors to create a network of adoptive families and improve long term outcomes for the children.
By the Numbers
Since 2017 we have provided 8,500+ therapies, trained 150 caregivers and within six months the average child in our program overcomes their developmental challenges.
In 2021 we created a mobile therapy team, composed of a speech therapist, 2 occupational therapists and a special educator, and have purchased a vehicle and the necessary therapy equipment so we can move our team anywhere in the country.
The expansion has allowed the Walker Center to reach more orphans in different areas of the country by sending trained team members and providing therapies directly at the homes. Teams have tele-medicine support from the therapists at the Walker Center and access to digital tools developed by our therapists during the COVID lockdown. In-home therapy will double or even triple the number of children we serve, and by training caregivers at the same time we are able to impact even more children.
Malnutrition is an ongoing concern, and our program is guided by an expert nutritionist to provide advice, individualized plans, and the necessary nutrients to the kids most affected. Forty-eight homes already receiving powdered milk, we’ve been able to supplement this with additional nutrients key for growth and development for 2,500 young children.
Since its inception, the Walker Center team has developed productive working relationships with 14 local orphanages, the major media outlets in Guatemala, the former First Lady of Guatemala, The Autism Society of Guatemala, The Down Syndrome Association of Guatemala, US based nonprofits who serve the orphan population, neurologists, speech therapists, the American/Guatemalan Chamber of Commerce, several local businesses, and local universities.