Fear of legal action, confusion over rules and a failure to include children and parents in decision making is excluding children with disabilities from everyday activities and is causing them stress and loss of dignity, according to new research out today (Thursday 28 February). (1)
The report Handle With Care by Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People examines policy and practice in the moving and handling of children with physical disabilities. (2) It is based on a survey of all 32 local authorities, interviews and focus groups with children and young people, parents and practitioners, and a review of relevant law.
It concludes that there are vast differences across Scotland in moving and handling practice, staff training and the extent to which children and parents are involved in decisions about their care. Essentially, children with physical disabilities can be victims of a “postcode lottery” which has serious implications for their quality of life.
Handle With Care also highlights the dilemma staff face in choosing between following a policy (which may mean moving a child in a way that causes the child pain or distress), or risking disciplinary action by moving a child in the way he/she prefers. Staff are also concerned about a lack of resources and the fact that moving and handling is often given a low priority by service providers.
Service providers are often unclear about policies and rules and may concentrate solely on limiting all risks due to a fear of litigation. Parents and carers feel that the health and safety of staff is prioritised at the expense of the rights and needs of children. The children themselves often feel they are treated like any other “load” and are sometimes handled without being consulted on what method they prefer and what is comfortable. Children end up being excluded from activities such as school trips and facilities such as swimming pools. Ultimately, their quality of life and development can suffer as a result.
Kathleen Marshall, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children & Young People, said, “The moving and handling of children with disabilities has a real impact on their happiness, comfort and safety, but staff are understandably confused over what they can and cannot do and have to constantly juggle conflicting priorities.
“National standards are desperately needed so that, though the detail of policy may vary from council to council, there are clear guidelines that ensure the safety and well-being of staff and children. The quality of life of children with disabilities, and respect for their rights and needs, should not be a postcode lottery.