Children with disabilities often invisible in official statistics, report finds

Many support programmes and policies ‘focused exclusively on adults’

The report focused on the realisation of the rights of children with disabilities and found  they are relatively invisible in data and official statistics. Photograph: Getty

The report focused on the realisation of the rights of children with disabilities and found they are relatively invisible in data and official statistics. Photograph: Getty


Children with disabilities have little opportunity to participate in the development of legislation and policies which affect their lives, a new report has found.

The report, which focuses on the realisation of the rights of children with disabilities, also said they are relatively invisible in data and official statistics.

“Laws, policies and programmes designed to support people with disabilities are often focused exclusively on adults,” the report said.

“The supports offered under the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act apply only to adults, even though children and young people with disabilities might also benefit from specific and tailored decision-making supports, especially during the transition from childhood to adulthood.”

Similarly, children with disabilities were rarely mentioned explicitly in laws and policies which concerned children.

For example, Better Outcomes Brighter Futures, the national policy framework for children and young people, contains no reference to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The report, entitled Mind the Gap, was compiled by researchers at the Centre for Disability Law and Policy at NUI Galway’s Institute for Lifecourse and Society. It was commissioned by the Ombudsman for Children’s Office.

‘Explicitly excluded’

Prof Eilionóir Flynn, one of the researchers who compiled the study, said another example of children with disabilities not being visible in the law is the Child Care Act 1991.

She said this Act makes no explicit provision for the protection of children with disabilities. “Residential centres for children with disabilities are explicitly excluded from the remit of this law.”

She added that children’s disability services are also excluded from the remit of Tusla. “We have siloing... where children’s issues are dealt with by one department or organisation, and children with disabilities may have to deal with a different department or regulator.”

Prof Flynn added that children with disabilities are often invisible in their communities.

“There are no national or best practice guidelines [for] the design of accessible play spaces.

“The lack of school places or school choice [means] that some parents are opting for home tuition, and that can result in segregation of the children from their peers, or if the children have to travel to schools far away, the children are not learning in their own communities.”

Segregated education

It was also noted that education was becoming more segregated. According to the report, there were 39 autism units in schools in 2001. In 2014, this had increased to 627 units.

Also speaking at the webinar, Dr Shivaun Quinlivan, who was involved in the research, said that inclusive education is important and is mentioned specifically in UN human rights conventions. “The increase [in segregated provisions] is so significant it suggests a policy. It may be an informal policy... but we need some guidance on what it is.”

The absence of children with disabilities from data and statistics was another factor in their exclusion, according to the report.

“Data collected by government, Tusla, and Hiqa on the number of children in care is not disseminated or disaggregated to account for the number of children with disabilities,” said Prof Flynn.

“We know from many reports that there are serious issues concerning the rights of children with disabilities in care. [We can see] a number of children with disabilities are entering care, but we can’t track this, we have no official statistics on how many, and what their experiences are.”

The data on the number of children on waiting lists for child and adolescent mental health services does not include specific statistics on children with disabilities.

The report concluded that new and existing disability and child focused laws and policies must include specific references, targets and actions relating to children with disabilities.