Skip to content

Throughout my social work career, I have had different roles that have involved supporting children with a disability and their families. This included working as a deputy manager, at a Short Breaks home for children with disabilities and complex needs. I also worked as a supervising social worker supporting foster carers in a specialist service for disabled children and children with additional needs. Within these roles I was able to see the barriers that many children and young people faced. But I also learnt how to provide the best possible support to these children and young people.   

The reality for many children with a disability is that even though they share similar dreams, and aspirations to their peers, many are faced with barriers to accessing or experiencing the same social experiences as their non-disabled peers or siblings. Activities and childhood ‘norms’ that many children and young people take for granted, such as going to sports clubs or hanging out with friends, often felt impossible to them.   

Some children I supported shared feelings of guilt at the additional pressure they felt they placed on their parents. I remember one young person telling me that they felt sad that they couldn’t “just be normal”. Hearing this as a social worker, made me determined to include the voices and experiences of children when advocating for them in assessments or decision making. Throughout my social work journey, and my experience working in children’s disability teams, there are two key principles that I have learnt and embedded in my practice.  

1. Building relationships with the children

It is so important to take time to build a relationship with and understand the child. Children with disabilities are more vulnerable to abuse than their non-disabled peers. This means that, as their social worker, we need to be acutely aware of each child’s individual needs, vulnerabilities, and protectors. Sometimes, this might prove to be challenging. However, try and be creative and think outside of the box. Use the people who know how the child communicates, and most importantly, be guided by the child. Each child is unique, and it might take longer to build a relationship with a disabled child for many reasons, so patience and creativity are essential.   

2. Using the right language to talk about disability

As social workers, we should always pay attention to how we use language. The language around disability is often deficit-focused and negative. For example, terms such as ‘respite’, ‘non-verbal’ and ‘suffers with a hearing impairment’ have negative connotations but can easily be rephrased with more strength-based and anti-oppressive language. For example ‘communicates using…’ and is ‘d/Deaf’. Ultimately, we should ask the child, or young person, what words they prefer to use, include them in the conversation and respect their choice.   

As social workers not only do we provide support, but we also have a responsibility to foster a space for inclusivity and respect. As we celebrate Disability History month, remember that each child you support deserves not just recognition but an opportunity where their uniqueness is celebrated. It is so important that we continue to listen to their stories, share learning with one another, and provide a space where we can embrace every aspect of diversity.