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Families with disabled children 'face blame culture' when seeking help
Research examining 143 social care departments in England found a lack of training, experience and understanding of challenges families faced.
Instead, the University of Leeds report said, the "default position" of national and local social care policies was to assume parental failings.
The government said its guidance did not imply fault or suspicion.
Families seeking additional support for their child are usually assessed by a social worker to determine what help they may qualify for.
Researchers looked at the children's services assessment protocols and surveyed more than 90 parent/carer-led support groups.
They said the process appeared to be focused on parental fitness rather than addressing the support needed, and families often said assessors insisted on speaking to their child alone.
None of the protocols explained the need to change assessment approaches in cases where there was no evidence of neglect or abuse.
The report said its key finding was that the standard approach "locates the problems associated with a child's impairment in the family".
It referred to the phenomenon as "institutionalising parent carer blame".
Parents, quoted anonymously in the report, described the process as "humiliating, bullying and devastating". One said it was like "the police turning up at your door and [saying] 'we've got a warrant to search your house'".
Mehreen, whose seven-year-old son Assad is autistic, tried to get extra support from Bradford Council.
"I was really struggling at home, especially when we went into the pandemic," said the single mother, from Bingley, West Yorkshire.
She found the assessment intrusive and the questions she faced made her uncomfortable.
"They went into my childhood, my parent's lives, my personal life before Assad was even born," she said.
"They really left me thinking whether they are questioning, albeit indirectly, my parenting abilities or my personality or me as a person or if I was fit even to be a parent to Assad.
"It made me feel incompetent as a parent and that's not something I've felt before."
She said assessors asked on three occasions to see Assad's room, which made her suspect they were looking for a safeguarding issue.
A spokesperson for Bradford Council said it was committed to ensuring disabled children got the best support and were safe.
"This means that there are times when we will need to see a child or young person's room when we are doing an assessment to establish what their needs are.
"We know that sometimes families may find this difficult but our intention when doing this is to make sure we do a thorough assessment. It is never to blame parents."
He said national guidance was "defective" and the "root cause" of the problem.
"Leading to parents being blamed when they ask for care for their disabled children, instead of receiving the help and support they deserve. I call upon the education secretary to address this issue as a matter of urgency."
Tracy Elliot, head of research at Cerebra, a national charity helping children with brain conditions, said the assumption of parental failings was of great concern. "It ignores the fact that disabled children often have complex medical, educational and social support needs and face many barriers to their participation in society," she said.
A Department for Education spokesperson said the Working Together (2018) guidance sets out how social care professionals should assess a vulnerable child's needs. "It does not imply any fault or suspicion of parents of disabled children," they said.
They added that social workers should receive training and support to work effectively with children and their families. "So that every child, including those with additional needs or disabilities, has the chance to grow up in a stable, loving home where they receive the care and support that enables them to fulfil their potential.
Over to youDo you have an experience of seeking help from social care as a parent of a disabled child that you'd like to share? Have you ever felt as though blame was being placed on you as a parent or carer? Do you think the national guidance is the problem? Please share your thoughts below!
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