• Early Childhood Intervention

Personal bonds, a child’s potential, and a new era of ECI: Agapi Papadaki tells us her ECI story

Image of Agapi Papadaki on the right and white text on a blue background on the left reading: Humans of EASPD - Agapi Papadaki.

Our second Humans of EASPD story follows Agapi Papadaki, Head of ECI at AMIMONI in Greece.

When Agapi first encountered a family-centred approach 18 years ago, there was no Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) system in place in Greece – no funding, no structure, and no legal framework.

Now, as Head of Early Childhood Intervention at AMIMONI, Agapi has witnessed this once intangible concept come to life, playing a major role in building an ECI system in Greece for the past 9 years with no sign of slowing down. Focusing on the home-visiting programme for children with disabilities, she has become one of the most vocal supporters of a family-centred approach within ECI, especially when it comes to young children aged 0 – 6 years old.

In our discussion, Agapi takes us through her journey with ECI, from when she was first galvanised by her personal connection to this service as a parent to seeing it become acknowledged under Greek law.

Tell me your story and your journey in the ECI sector.

It all started around 9 years ago with a personal connection to ECI. When I had my own children, I gained a personal interest on the content of the services, and thought nothing like that was happening in Greece at the time.

I was a part-time collaborator of AMIMONI and created a funding proposal for the organisation to establish a foundation, and it was during this application period that we had to develop a more structured and comprehensive ECI programme. So, we were already thinking about how to improve existing services.

I was then asked to come back to implement what I proposed in the application and signed on for a three-year project! That’s how my journey began.

In your words, how would you define ECI?

For me, the most important element of ECI is the cooperation among professionals and parents to support the child’s development . The parent knows their child the best and their home is where everything happens, so if you want to communicate with the child, it needs to happen within their home and family.

Unfortunately in Greece support is very medical and mainly about therapies, that take place in an isolated way. A child goes to the doctor that may find a gap in the capacity to move, or talk thus prescribes a specific therapy, with  no one in charge of the coordination  or communication about them, and the family is barely informed about this.

The responsibility of the child is somewhat taken away from you as a parent, and you end up losing track of the needs of the child. This disparity is especially true from ages 0 – 6 years old, and is why I’ve always felt that the ECI concept is the perfect service to cover this disparity – by focusing more on the family and the child’s wellbeing.

Many years of research prove that children learn and grow more in the place where they spend most of their time, like their home and from their natural caregivers, such as their parents. For instance, children with visual impairments can actually perform daily tasks, such as eating and learning, independently and with ease if appropriate adaptations are made to their setting. Adjusting the everyday child’s environment to their needs is therefore crucial to providing them with safety, stability, and the chance to reach their full potential.

You are working with one of the few service providers in Greece that follow a family-centred and home-based model – how did this come to be?

This happened 18 years ago.

One of our board members was a mother of a child with visual impairments, and intellectual and mobility disabilities. She was frustrated with how parents and families hardly got any guidance about what to do with a child that has these disabilities. This compelled her to figure it out herself, and she travelled to Germany to visit another institution that provided services to visually impaired children. There, she learnt about the early intervention programme, which was the home-visiting programme. This was exactly what she would have needed when her child was born in order to strengthen the relationship between a mother and a child – for example, how to create a safe environment for the child, how to make her visible to the child, how to feed them.

Since then, she’s tried to build this system in Greece. Soon after, the German institution [she visited] came to Greece and started to help build this system on a smaller scale. In the first ten years, the system didn’t exist, there was no funding, and the system wasn’t recognised under Greek law. Structuring, funding, and distinguishing ECI from other therapies then started, and now it’s within the law!

What do you think your country needs to achieve / hope that your country achieves to guarantee ECI to all children and families that need it. What would your role be in this process?

We want ECI services to be accessible to all families, but it’s quite exclusive at the moment. So, for this to happen, there are several essential things we need.

One of the first things that comes to mind is the dissemination and communication of information about ECI and its services. It’s not enough for one organisation to just talk about it – we need to build a network.

When it comes to ECI professionals, we need staff with very specific and comprehensive training and background, as well as a change of mindset. This means we need to develop a good, recurring training programme that fosters the self-reflection necessary to adapt their approach as ECI evolves. Of course, this type of recurring training would be an additional cost for the organisation providing ECI, but it would lead to having skilled professionals who are flexible and have an interdisciplinary outlook.

It's also important that ECI staff are committed to staying with a family for a few years. If the ECI professional changes every year, it would be hard to build trust and a strong relationship with the family, and could jeopardise the quality of service provided.

We also need to develop as many early intervention centres within communities as possible – families shouldn’t have to travel so far to access these services.

These changes won’t come instantaneously or easily, but it’s important to not reduce the quality of ECI services for the sake of ease.  With all these changes in mind, I hope to be able to be part of the new era of education and supervision in ECI.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career within ECI?

Well, we realised our main challenges when we first saw good practices from all over the world – for example, in the United States. It was clear that we had many more steps that needed to be taken, especially in terms of supporting ECI professionals by developing interdisciplinary teams.

It’s very heavy for one professional to deal with all family members who open up emotionally when they arrive, so the professional needs to be well supported – emotionally and mentally – when they return from their home-visits. They need to be able to openly express and discuss how they feel about what’s happening, even if it’s negative. For this to happen, we need to have an interdisciplinary ECI team, where there’s more support and supervision given to staff members. Improving this aspect of ECI is one of the most challenging parts.

On the other end of the spectrum, peer support groups for parents are also areas where we need to improve. Communication and support amongst parents, where they share good practices, would allow families to feel more at ease. It would also empower them to become more active in the advocacy part of ECI – to raise awareness within their community and society.

What makes you most proud of the work you do? What do you feel your greatest accomplishments are?

We’re very proud of having the Greek state understand what we have been discussing and working towards all these years – this is a huge achievement for us. Everyone that has worked, and continues to work, in the ECI programme contributes to a common goal.

I’m really proud of our team, who are flexible, reflective, and adaptive to the evolution of ECI, and the families we’ve worked with being very satisfied with our work.


About Humans of EASPD

Humans of EASPD is a social media campaign that we have launched for 2023 leading up to our upcoming summer conference in Tirana.

Over the span of five weeks, our campaign will dedicate a post to one of our humans to spotlight the work of our members in the field of Early Childhood Intervention.

Each post will present a unique story of an individual, sharing their journey within the field and shining a light on the personal significance ECI can have in someone’s life.