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The invisible child

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 Māori 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% of people on a main benefit (main benefits exclude superannuation) claimed a disability allowance (See pages 30 and 235). By Comparison, 32% of people on main benefits identified as Māori (See Page 28).

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

39% of parents receiving the child disability allowance were on a main benefit or superannuation (See pages 114 and 115).

The employment statistics for people with disabilities are also worse than Māori or Pacifika. 45% of people with disabilities were in the labour force compared to 69.3% of Māori and 62.1% of Pasifika.

The lack of statistics also extends to related areas, including child abuse and maltreatment. Unlike ethnicity, the Ministry of Social Development 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 America, 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 (See reference 13 in the article).

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%, or around 98 students, of Auckland Grammar School are Māori, but I can’t tell you how many students have special education needs or are in the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS).

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 Ministry of Education in its early childhood education work is focusing almost exclusively on Māori and Pasfika.

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.  

Sam Murray
Policy and Advocacy Team

5 Responses to “The invisible child”

  1. Liz Church says:

    Thanks Sam, really interesting. I heard on the radio today that the White paper also ignores poverty links so again they have not investigated the full range of risk factors for children, which oversimplifies the problem and leads to simplistic solutions. This blog would make a great media release – Are there plans to do this?

  2. Steve Daw says:

    Thanks Sam. This blog reinforces the theory that polititians are often guilty of massaging and manipulating figures so they eventually paint whatever picture it was that they were intended to paint. The title “The Invisible Child” seems to demonstrate exactly what the polititians wanted. They seem to have wanted to bury their heads in the sand; after all, if you can’t see the problem, it’s easier to pretend it’s not there!

  3. Hey Sam, Great blog subject – thank you. Its well overdue that these issues were highlighted and hopefully acknowledged at a level that can impact on change. This is a challenge to government that surely cannot be ignored.
    The statistics speak for themselves and also give a clear signal that all govt depts i.e. MOE need to be more proactive in gathering statistics and supporting ALL minority groups that are vulnerable. Yep – it will be a long battle but as we all know a worthwhile one. Social change for minority groups has never been easy BUT thats the challenge that CCS Disability Action is committed to.

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