Children with disabilities 'sometimes invisible'

Last updated 08:58 16/11/2012

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David Matthews, chief executive of CCS Disability Action, says the debate about child poverty has failed to take disability issues into account.

Children with disabilities often face the toughest barriers in society. Yet they are sometimes invisible when it comes to government policy and the work of experts.

This has been the case with the debate on child poverty and abuse. The Government White Paper and the work of the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty focus far more on ethnicity than disability.

This is because there is a lack of research and statistics on disability, especially compared to Maori and Pasifika. What evidence is available, points to a link between disability and poverty at least as strong as ethnicity, if not stronger.

We know that people with disabilities and their families make up a significant percentage of people on benefits. In 2011, 35 per cent of people on a main benefit (main benefits exclude superannuation) claimed a disability allowance. By comparison, 32 per cent of people on main benefits identified as Maori.

Previous research has also shown that 26 per cent of people on the Domestic Purpose Benefits (DPB) have children with disabilities.

Thirty-nine per cent of parents receiving the child disability allowance are on a main benefit or superannuation

The employment statistics for people with disabilities are also worse than Maori or Pasifika. Forty-five per cent of people with disabilities are in the labour force compared to 69.3 per cent of Maori and 62.1 per cent of Pasifika.

The lack of statistics also extends to related areas, including child abuse and maltreatment. Unlike ethnicity, the Social Development Ministry does not identify whether a child has a disability when reporting on abuse and maltreatment in its statistical reports. So we know the ethnicity of children in child abuse cases, but not whether the child has a disability. This is despite overseas research showing children with disabilities to be at acute risk.

One of the most comprehensive studies to date, which took place in the United States, found children with disabilities to be 3.8 times more likely to be neglected, 3.8 times more likely to be physically abused, and 3.1 times more likely to be sexually abused when compared with children without disabilities.

Education is another difficult area to get statistics. The Education Review Office provides a detailed breakdown of ethnic groups within schools, but no breakdown based on disability. I can tell you that 4 per cent, or around 98 students, of Auckland Grammar School are Maori, but I can't tell you how many students have special education needs or are in the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS).

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The same is true for early childhood education. The ministry does not collect data on disability and participation rates, but does on ethnicity. This is despite, research pointing to major barriers for disabled children in early childhood education.

The lack of data causes major problems for priorities and policy. For example, the Education Ministry in its early childhood education work is focusing almost exclusively on Maori and Pasifika.

Until the Government and experts recognise and address the barriers children with disabilities and their families face, real solutions to issues like child poverty will be impossible.

- The Press

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