social work

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Role Of The Social Worker In Promoting The Rights Of Disabled Children Social Work Essay

If all types of oppression were to cease, the concept of disability would become redundant. Analyse this statement with reference to the models of disability described in Topic 12 Living and Working with Disabled Children, and discuss the role of the social worker in promoting the rights of disabled children

In order to analyse the statement, “If all types of oppression were to cease, the concept of disability would become redundant” it is essential to look at the various models of disability and consider how disabled people are perceived and treated by society. I will draw on course material from K224, Topic 12. I will explore the different models of disability and how these may curb or promote the voice of disabled children. I hope to strengthen my answer by drawing on articles from the course reader. I will discuss why it is important when working with families to have an understanding of their individual needs and the context in which they live and I have incorporated some professional practice in an attempt to illustrate my points.

“The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 defines a disabled person as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities” (Direct.gov.uk). It can be argued the term disability is fluid and changeable depending on which model of disability one relates to. Society socially constructs the term “disability” “We live in a society that makes disabled children very vulnerable, one that has very ambivalent feelings about disabled children” (Marchant, Reader, p 215). Children with disabilities along with their families are very often excluded from the norms of society thus being segregated and rendering them invisible.

Over the past thirty years the understanding of disability has changed. It has shifted from seeing disability as a tragic condition or problem that has an impact on the lives of the unfortunate, to recognising disability as a situation of collective institutional discrimination and social oppression.

Language is a powerful means of construction; it is one of the most powerful ways in which we gain knowledge. Language changes over time, not only in the way it is spoken but in the manner words are used. Up until the 1980’s the word ‘spastic’ was used by the medical profession to describe individuals with cerebral palsy. This along with words such as ‘mongle’, ‘retard’ and ‘cripple’, continue to be used by some individuals in society, being used in a derogatory manner towards those with disabilities. The media is probably one of the most powerful ways in which we are socially constructed. In the past charitable organisations used negative images of disability to create feelings of pity in order to gain people’s attention to attract sympathy in order to obtain donations. Images today are more positive, we see images of disabled children playing sports, such as wheelchair basketball, looking happy and integrated into society. One of the most popular representations of disability on television in recent years has been South Park’s, Timmy, the rebel in a wheelchair. Timmy has done wonders to showcase how a child with a disability has the same hopes, fears and wants as other children. These types of images are slowly changing society’s perceptions of what disabilities are.

The medical model of disability views disability as being the fault of the disabled person because of their functional limitations. It focuses on the individual’s impairment as being the cause of their difficulties, often being seen as something negative, a condition which must be eradicated. The medical profession seek to find cures and normalisation of the individual.

The social model is believed to have its roots within the fields of psychology and sociology and was developed in the UK in the 1980’s by disabled people who argued that they are not disabled due to illness or impairment. Supporters of the social model, see disability as a social construction brought about by the way disabled and non-disabled individuals interact, which can create disadvantage and exclusion. They recognised environmental, social and attitudinal barriers prevent them from participating fully in society.

The social-psychological model of disability was designed by Mark’s (1999) who maintained that the subjective experience of a disabled individual is important as is the need to recognise they have the right to be heard and should be afforded the opportunity to communicate using the method that best suits their abilities. Advocates of this model recognise that not every child with impairment sees themselves as having a disability, for example in Activity 6, Identities; one child states “I am not a disability, I’m me. I have dyslexia and I’ve had polio but I’m not ‘a dyslexic’ or ‘a cripple’. I’m me”. (John, quoted in Rieser and Mason, 1990, p 85; Topic 12, p 20)

When analysing the models of disability with regards to services provided to disabled children the medical model appeared the most prominent factor in disempowering and rendering disabled children invisible as it focuses solely on their disability and no other area of their identity. In activity 4, we were introduced to disabled children discussing language, labelling and images in relation to how they are perceived by others. A quote given highlights the frustration the medical model can cause “It’s always about what’s wrong with me.... They are only interested in the bits of me that don’t work. They want to see what I can’t do”. (Girl quoted in department of Health, 2000, p76; topic 12, p 16). The medical profession appears to be the dominant provider of care who tends to “individualise and label” children who are disabled (Topic 12, p21). In the learning resource material Simone Aspis draws attention to medical labels that describe the differences between an individual whose body is valued to that whose is not or how a child receives a label, such as being autistic due to them not behaving in a way society perceives as acceptable. (Learning Resource Material, p52).

It is recognised that the social model has had a significant influence on the development of legislation such as, the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, which places a duty on all public bodies to promote disability equality, however, it is not without its’ critics. There have been suggestions that the model generalises disabled people’s experiences based on the views of a white middle-class perspective, failing to recognise the opinions of the working-class or black and ethnic minority groups. (K113, Block 6, p11). Aspis, along with others raise questions as to how the social model perceives disability, arguing “the term impairment’ locates the body more within a medical model”. (Topic 12, p24). Advocates of the model would argue that they do not disagree that there is an existence of impairments or physiological differences but instead say it attempts to address the difference without attaching the stigmatising effects of disablement that not only impact on the disabled person but can often bring disadvantage to their family.

As identified in research by Watson et al. (1999) it would appear that both disabled and able-bodied children favour the social-psychological approach. As they are of the opinion the model recognises them as individuals that should not be labelled due to a difference they may have as a result of impairment, adding there is more to their identity, adding their impairment does not mean that they are disabled in every area. An example given is “a child who can walk slowly may be able to swim quickly” (Topic 12, p26).

It is important to recognise the dangers of sticking too rigidly to the tenets of one particular model, as whilst theoretical models are helpful in explaining the way things work, they can have their weaknesses. For example the social model may appear appropriate however, by sticking to it rigidly could result in Social Workers overlooking the current needs and possible effects the disability is having at the time of assessment. Likewise dismissing the medical model could result in the worker’s failure to recognise some disabled children do require medical intervention.

Within the education system it is evident that government legislation, attempts to implement the social model by the inclusion of a person with a disability in a mainstream school. However, there are occasions when it is the medical model that ensues; for example a child is identified as having a hearing impairment and may be not be able to attend mainstream education as the setting may not meet their needs. Advocates of the social model will argue that the chid is unable to attend mainstream school, not because of their impairment, rather that they are prohibited from learning due to a lack of aids and equipment. In contrast supporters of the medical model may argue that whilst mainstream schools may be able to understand the needs of the child, “specialist schools” would do a better job, due to staff having a better awareness and specifically designed equipment being available. It could be argued that if we move away from discussion surrounding impairments and deficits, and instead emphasise and utilise a Capabilities Approach, disabled children will have a greater opportunity to participate. By utilising Sen’s (1993) ‘Capabilities Approach’ professionals would more effectively recognise the disabled child’s ability to communicate their views, needs and wishes (Roche, Reader, p 81).

Implementation of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 set a positive agenda for local authority policy and procedures to promote anti-oppressive practice specifically in relation to children with disabilities. Valuing diversity, listening and respecting disabled children as equals with unconditional positive regard is the key in promoting good practice. (K113, Aids to Practice Cards, Anti-oppressive practice, p 109). The Joseph Rowantree Foundation is an organisation that met this requirement as they readily made available resources required for effective communication of disabled children’s views. (Topic 12, p44).

The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 states the welfare of the child is paramount. Children with disabilities and those who are affected by disability fall into the category of children in need. Local Authorities have a statutory duty to provide services as outlined in Section 22 and 23 of the Act. Section 24 of the 1995 Act, also places a statutory duty on Local Authorities to assess carers of a disabled child, should they request an assessment.

As a Family Support Worker I have a number of children with disabilities on my case load. It is my responsibility as a worker to assess the needs of the child and to explore other factors that may impact on other members of the family. In order to identify any need, I am required to undertake an assessment under the Community Care and Health (Scotland) Act 2002 and therefore required to undertake a holistic and integrated approach to identify issues such as health, educational and housing needs. I have recently undertaken an assessment for a young person, who has Pierre Robin Syndrome which causes severe physical and learning disabilities. Despite his physical and communication difficulties it was essential that I explored how he communicated to ensure any barriers that existed were removed. My knowledge of the Strengths Approach highlighted the need to “see the person behind the label” (Howe, 2009, quoted in chapter 13, p 99) which helped me identify that whilst the young person may have difficulty communicating verbally, he still has the capacity to communicate. The Strengths approach identifies the importance of detecting the strengths and potential the individual may have. In using this approach I was allowing the young person and his carers to explore how they could contribute to the assessment process. I see this approach as going hand in hand with social-psychological model as they both see the person as an individual and not the label.

It is now accepted that a modernisation of social care is necessary and Government policy, acknowledges that people with disabilities that require services, should have the right to be actively involved in the design and delivery of the support. This has resulted in the introduction of the Personalisation Agenda, which puts the focus on the individual to decide what is important to them, giving them the opportunity to purchase in services that they wish. Personalisation is still in the early stages of development. South Lanarkshire Council, the authority I am employed by is undertaking a pilot scheme within their Rutherglen/ Cambuslang area. The focus being on young adults with disabilities who are in the transition stage from Child and Family Services to Adult Services. It will enable them to live their life as citizens within their own communities, encouraging them to be creative in reaching desired goals and to demand flexibility from those engaged in their support. Personalisation also goes hand in hand with the social-psychological model of disability.

In conclusion, I believe I have explored the concept of the social construction of disability by describing some of the language used by people to described individuals with disabilities. I have identified the strengths and weaknesses of the Medical, Social and Social-psychological models of disability and how these may curb or promote the voice of disabled children. In providing examples and principles of good practice, I have highlighted the need for children with disabilities to be listened to and for their views and opinions to be respected in terms of how they feel their disability impacts on them and their family. Good professional practice will go further than integration. It will endeavour to ensure full participation and equal opportunity for all children to meet their individual potential

Word count: 2192


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