Supporting children and young people with disabilities
My name is Julie, and I am a qualified social worker. For the majority of my social work career I was a senior practitioner in a children with disabilities team. I started working for Frontline in 2016 as a Practice Tutor before joining the curriculum team in 2021. Though I am no longer in frontline practice, I am still passionate about safeguarding children with disabilities and I have recently achieved a Masters degree in Advanced Child Protection.
Shortly after qualifying as a social worker, I decided to focus my career specifically on working with children with disabilities. I didn’t have a huge amount of knowledge about people living with disabilities, but I had passion, and knew I wanted to help change the lives of young people.
It was at the point when the Care Act 2014 was introduced, as the legal framework supporting the personalisation agenda which gave families more choice about what support they wanted, including a choice for young people to make decisions about their support needs. During this time, I really saw the impact this had on young people, as they were given some control over their own lives, and because of this I ended up staying in this team for a long time.
We need to understand the increased vulnerability of young people living with a disability, these young people are 3.4 times more likely to be abused or neglected than children living without a disability.
Our society needs to recognise this vulnerability and is a further example of why I worked within this specialism and demonstrates the need for social work support.
If I was going to give one piece of advice to social workers when working with a disabled child would be about communication and the importance of seeing the child first and not the disability. This is a fundamental part of building a relationship with the child and making sure we are talking to them opposed to talking about them. Building this relationship comes from understanding different communication styles and how you may have to alter these depending on the young person you are working with. Transparency is key, and so prior to your first meeting with the young person, if the situation allows, you can reach out to their parents or guardians and other professionals working with the child to ask, ‘how do they like to be communicated with?’ or, try to understand what their interests are to build a relationship on what they enjoy.
Alongside my role, I looked into how my personal development could benefit the young people I worked with, for example I decided to learn sign language so I could improve my communication skills and build stronger relationships with young people who had a hearing impairment. It’s important as social workers to understand the needs of the individual child and change the way we communicate to best understand who they are.