11 Jan 2007

Disabled Children Denied Their Voice

11 January 2007

The Children's Society is urging the Government to grant all disabled children placed away from home unconditional access to an independent advocate. In support of The Children’s Society new campaign, launched today, an Ipsos MORI survey commissioned by the charity reveals overwhelming public support for improving existing services for disabled children.

According to the new survey(1), Disabled Children & Advocacy, also published today by The Children’s Society, more than eight out of 10 adults agree that disabled children and young people placed away from home should have access to an independent advocate. The survey also reveals that:
* 87 percent of adults agree that all disabled children should be entitled to support to give them a say in the decisions made about their lives.
* 75 percent of adults say that more needs to be done to improve support given to disabled children.

There are more than 13,000 disabled children placed away from home(2) yet alarming research reveals that only five percent of them have had access to an independent advocate(3). The absence of an advocate leaves them open to bullying, intimidation, and demeaning treatment.

An advocate can help disabled children get their views across and take part in decisions that affect their lives. For these children (many who have serious communication difficulties) making choices and decisions depends on being able to communicate preferences and having someone who is willing to take the time to listen and understand.

Independent advocacy is an important source of protection giving disabled children a voice within an otherwise closed system. Earlier research has shown disabled children are more likely to be abused than other children(4). Children and young people have said they are often intimidated when involved in meetings about their care and not given enough time to get their views across(5) .

The Government is currently reviewing its support for children placed away from home in the Care Matters Green Paper. The Children's Society is lobbying the Minister for Children, Beverley Hughes MP for a statutory right for disabled children placed away from home to access independent advocacy.

Penny Nicholls, Strategy Director at The Children's Society, said: “There are simple things in life most of us take for granted such as choosing the food we eat, when we go to the toilet and speaking out when we feel threatened. Disabled children placed away from home are often denied these very basic rights and are more at risk of harm than other children. Every child deserves a good childhood and disabled children placed away from home should have access to an independent advocate to safeguard this entitlement.”

Christine Lenehan, Director at Council for Disabled Children endorsed the campaign: “For too long disabled children placed away from home, have been invisible children deprived of their right to communicate their concerns, ‘Every Disabled Child Matters’ applauds The Children's Society for taking this campaign forward.”

Paralympic medal winner and disability campaigner Ade Adepitan pledged his support for the campaign: “Sometimes it's hard enough to be heard when you are disabled, but it’s even worse if you have difficulty communicating. I am supporting The Children's Society's campaign to ensure disabled children placed away from home have the opportunity to reach their potential and realise their ambitions.”

Notes to Editors:

  • The Children's Society is a leading national charity, driven by the belief that every child deserves a good childhood. We provide vital help and understanding for those forgotten children who face the greatest danger, discrimination or disadvantage in their daily lives; children who are unable to find the support they need anywhere else. Our network of projects helps over 50,000 children and their families each year. Through our pioneering research and influential campaigning, we defend, safeguard and protect the childhood of all children. For more information visit www.childrenssociety.org.uk

1. Ipsos MORI and The Children’s Society (2006), Disabled Children & Advocacy: an Attitudinal Survey. [2,074 face-to-face interviews were conducted among the general public, aged 15+, in Britain between 12-16th October 2006]. 

2. DfES (April 2004) Disabled Children in Residential Placements.
There are 1,320 looked after disabled children in residential settings, and a further 965 placed in foster care. Many disabled children are living away from home for 52 weeks a year, often placed a long way away from family, friends and their local community. According to the Department for Education and Skills around 10,500 disabled children live in some form of residential special school.

3. The Children's Society Policy Unit, National Advocacy Survey, 2004 [unpublished]

4. Sullivan P & Knutson J (2000), Child Abuse & Neglect (US Study), 24(10), 1257-1273

5. Morgan R. (2006), Placements, Decisions and Reviews – A Children’s views report. CSCI

Case study
Rizwan is a 20-year-old young man from London with autism who had several placements away from his home. A number of issues arose over Rizwan’s schooling and residential placements, causing uncertainty and a great deal of anxiety for him.

Richard, an advocate from The Children's Society’s London Disability Advocacy Project, worked with Rizwan for over three years. With Richard’s support Rizwan was able to raise several issues over the years. Rizwan highlighted that several moves between services did not consider his cultural identity and appropriate services for people with autism were not made available resulting in the placements breaking down.

Richard said: “Working with Rizwan was rewarding simply because it highlighted the benefits of advocacy. At the beginning of the relationship Rizwan would ask me to tell people what he wanted and represent his interests. As Rizwan turned 18 and entered adult services, he had become empowered enough to speak for himself. This is considered the perfect advocacy relationship. I am confident that Rizwan can now make the next stage towards self advocacy in all aspects of his life.”