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Families with children with disabilities face ‘triple threat’ – UNICEF report

Published:Monday | December 5, 2022 | 12:07 AM
According to a UNICEF report, the triple threat to families with children with disabilities are economics of care, the cost of care, and the barriers to care for these children.
According to a UNICEF report, the triple threat to families with children with disabilities are economics of care, the cost of care, and the barriers to care for these children.

The monthly costs of caring for a child with disabilities far outstrip the income of many Jamaican families, according to UNICEF Jamaica.

The report, Caring for Children with Disabilities: Managing the Triple Threat to Families, commissioned by UNICEF in collaboration with the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, has found that while respondents’ monthly earnings did not exceed $29,000, most families with a child with a disability spend close to $50,000 each month on food, diapers and transportation. These expenses were among the most significant monthly costs, and when routine therapy services, medication and special education are added the costs skyrocket to upwards of J$220,000 monthly.

The research on the socio-economic impacts of disability on children and their access to social safety nets will be released during Disability Awareness Week 2022, which is observed from December 3 to 9.

More than 60 per cent of the respondents in the study reported that half or nearly all of their household income goes towards caring for the child with a disability; and given the high costs, they are unable to afford many of the services.

“The extremely high costs are cause for concern, especially for children with disabilities from the most disadvantaged households, and even more as we consider the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the poorest families,” said Vicente Teran, acting representative, UNICEF Jamaica. The triple threat to families with children with disabilities identified by the report were the economics of care, the cost of care, and the barriers to care for children with disabilities.

ECONOMICS OF CARE

In examining the economics of care, the study found that 43 per cent of respondents were unemployed, and most of these persons were out of work for more than one year (85 per cent). Many reported becoming unemployed after their child with a disability was born and remained unemployed out of an obligation to care for the child at home. Some mothers explained that they felt they had to stay home and take care of the child, as they did not trust anyone else to do so. They felt no one else was capable of providing care, or feared that other people would mistreat the child.

Some monthly costs range from $28,000 for childcare to $48,000 for speech therapy. Even if the family is living above the poverty line, the additional expense means there is little disposable income, family members live from hand to mouth, and any economic shock could push them into poverty.

The study also identified significant barriers to care for children with disabilities. While financial support for people with disabilities is available from the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities and the Ministry of Health and Wellness, it is not tailored to children’s specific needs. As such, children with disabilities must compete with other groups for limited funds.

The report specifically recommends a separate social safety net programme for children with disabilities.

“This would be a game changer for children with disabilities in Jamaica,” said Teran, adding that there was an urgent need to enhance current social safety net provisions to better target and protect vulnerable children in Jamaica.