In Poland, four of every 1,000 children are born with some form of brain damage, often cerebral palsy; this is a higher rate than is found in most other European countries. For example, the comparable statistic for Sweden is 1.5 out of every 1,000 children. The usual treatment pattern removes the child from family and places him or her in an institution. Typically, these institutions are extremely large, bureaucratic, underfunded and understaffed. In this atmosphere, it is nearly impossible for the children to realize their full potential simply because they are not given the specialized care and attention that they need.
Families who do not choose to institutionalize their brain-damaged children face many pressures, including the loneliness of caring for children who are not accepted as part of society. Families often hide such children away from others; they feel stigmatized and overwhelmed, and experience a great deal of economic and emotional strain. Usually mothers shoulder the bulk of responsibility for care, at considerable long-term financial cost: because she works at home, unpaid, such a mother not only forgoes salaried work but also loses her social security benefits. Often the situation pushes a family into poverty; some institutionalize their children out of financial necessity, even if they know that they could provide better care at home. Such pressures may produce ripple effects including divorce, depression and alcoholism. Under the best of circumstances, the state provides three 40-minute physical therapy sessions per week for a child with cerebral palsy who lives at home. The therapy is aimed at achieving very limited goals and does not include or train the parents.