Families who have a child with disabilities face barriers which concern the availability and quality of services, limited awareness and information, difficulties with application procedures, social stigma and negative attitudes. A research conducted by UNICEF in three regions in Kazakhstan concluded that only 10-15% of parents of a child with a disability have applied for social assistance or special social services for their children (UNICEF 2017a). This blog will highlight the main barriers to social assistance and special services for disabled children in the country.
The economic and social conditions of Kazakhstan’s population have improved significantly in the last two decades. Nevertheless, Kazakhstan’s expenditure on social protection is lower than that of other countries in the region (UNICEF, 2019). As a result, the coverage of low-income and vulnerable groups by social assistance and special social services remains fragmented in the country. Despite the recent positive changes in legislation and improvement of benefits and services, so far only 28.6% of children with a registered disability are covered by special social services (UNICEF, 2020).
In Kazakhstan, only 3% of children are registered as those with disabilities and special needs, while in other countries of the world this rate amounts to 10-15% of children. This is primarily caused by the difference in the approach to identify children with disabilities across countries (UNICEF, 2020). The child development screening programmes available at primary health care level in Kazakhstan mainly focus on health-related issues and do not emphasize screening and early identification of developmental delays (UNICEF, 2019).
Stigma as a barrier to social assistance
The stigma stems from a lack of public awareness of disability and acceptance of negative attitudes towards disabled people and their families. Stigma manifests in several ways and thus acts as a barrier, a deterrent to accessing social assistance and special social services. It generates self-exclusion and negatively affects the willingness of parents to apply for special social services and social protection programmes.
Some parents feel ashamed for their child’s disability and are reluctant to acknowledge, or even refuse to acknowledge, that their child has a disability. Child disability is often not recognised until the child starts school. As parents avoid seeking support for their children at an earlier stage, children have already been deprived of treatment and rehabilitation services in their early years.
Therefore, stigma constitutes a barrier to appropriate care for children. A social employee in one of the villages reported that denial of the signs of mental disability, particularly psycho-neurological status diseases by parents of young children is fairly common (UNICEF, 2017a).
In other cases, children themselves resisted being treated with special social services, feeling embarrassed or angry because they were treated differently than their peers. Moreover, several families also feel that there is a hostility from society when their children access special social services. They reported marginalization by neighbours and a lack of understanding or outright hostility from strangers (UNICEF, 2017a).
Lack of information about social assistance
In general, there is limited awareness about social assistance among Kazakh families who have a child with a disability. Many parents who have a child with a disability have not attempted to apply for social assistance programmes, citing a lack of information as their primary reason. Most of them referred to a total lack of information, whilst some parents considered the application process and eligibility criteria confusing (UNICEF, 2017a).
Difficulties with the application process
The burden posed by documentation and procedural requirements can be a significant deterrent to applying for special social services. Those who are informed about the programmes and services available to them still have trouble accessing them and part of this is caused by barriers encountered during the application process.
Difficulties with the application process are not absolute barriers, but they rather lengthen the time before which families are able to access the services and benefits. The complexity of the application process decreases parentsˈ willingness to apply and it also implies time and monetary costs for applicants.
The time burden of application is among the top reasons why households have not applied for special social services that they believe their child needs. According to UNICEF, the average length of time spent on the whole process of application ranges from 32 to 120 days in total (UNICEF, 2017a).
The rigid eligibility criteria for social assistance is also a barrier: poor households are often left out of extremely low thresholds that programmes use to determine poverty. Equally, scholarships and disability allowances are often considered as household income, distancing families from much needed social protection (UNICEF, 2017a).
Limited service availability
Another barrier to access special social services is the insufficient supply of services, which results in shortage and uneven availability of services for particular areas. Coverage of specialized services is rather patchy or even absent in some cases.
The fundamental challenge is the shortage of trained personnel in some areas. In the worst case, it leads to children being referred for any service that exists, regardless of whether it is an appropriate treatment for that child’s condition or not (UNICEF, 2017a).
Given the harmful effects on those at the receiving end of this hostility and the fact that in some cases these attitudes can prevent disabled children from being taken for treatment that would improve their quality of life, there is a need for public education to make disability better understood and accepting disabled people as equal members of society.
Besides benefiting disabled people, improving public attitudes towards disability will reduce the likelihood that disabled children will go undiagnosed and untreated due to parents’ shame (UNICEF 2017b).
Furthermore, more outreach should be done to identify families with a disabled child who has not yet made the step of applying for social protection programmes. There is a need for encouraging and informing parents to seek help. People should be able to self-identify that they need certain services and that those services are available (UNICEF 2017a).
It is important to ensure the availability of information about social protection, eligibility rules and application procedures information. In order to raise awareness among prospective applicants, a clear, single point of information for families should be established.
List of References
UNICEF (2017a). Barriers to access social assistance and special social services in Kazakhstan. Access here.
UNICEF (2017b). Improving Access to Poverty-Targeted Social Assistance and Special Social Services. Access here.
UNICEF (2019). A Situation Analysis of Children in Kazakhstan. Access here.
UNICEF (2020). Children with disabilities. Access here.