Research into practice

Disabled children and their families are rarely highlighted in reports about housing problems, although unsuitable housing has a major impact on family life. It may be opportune with the current emphasis on integrated children’s services to revisit research on good practice in housing disabled children and their families.

Wide-ranging barriers to meeting the housing needs of disabled children and their families were found by Christine Oldman and Bryony Beresford in 1999.1 These included a lack of finance, resources and awareness of the problems faced by the families and also ineffective joint working. This research highlighted the limitations of the disabled facilities grant, including how items such as play space, essential to children’s development, were only discretionary rather than mandatory criteria.

They found that many professionals or organisations could be involved in assessing and delivering housing adaptations, and that it was sometimes hard for families to understand what a proposed adaptation would look like in real life, leading to perhaps something less effective being created for them.

They followed this up in 2002 with a study of the housing needs of disabled children and their families, including a comparison with families with non-disabled children.2 This highlighted the large number of problem areas experienced by the families with a disabled child, for example space, inadequate facilities and location. More than a third of families found the location of their home to be a problem either because it was unsafe for their child or because of difficulties with neighbours.

Although families with the lowest income experienced the most difficulties, middle-income families also experienced considerable problems. White families were found to be more likely to be living in a suitable home than non-white families, although different ethnic groups experienced different problems. A common finding was that no single agency took overall responsibility for ensuring the housing needs for disabled children were met.

The same year, Mark Bevan looked at good practice in housing disabled children and their families.3 This report examined services that were commended by families themselves. One of these was the “one-stop shop” approach or simply a named individual who would listen, and services with an ethos of placing families at the centre of decision-making about their housing circumstances.

The report provides a helpful “checklist for change” for housing and disabled children. It looks at the areas of access, delivery and strategy. It asks questions such as:

  • Do Children Act 1989 assessments of disabled children routinely investigate possible housing problems?
  • Are families presented with a full range of housing options?
  • Are there specific joint arrangements that are or could be utilised to meet housing needs (for example, pooled budgets)?

It may be a useful exercise to sit down and go through the checklist. If the answer to some questions is clearly “no” then there may be a need to look at what changes can be made.

1 Bryony Beresford and Christine Oldman, Making Homes Fit for Children: Working Together to Promote Change in the Lives of Disabled Children, Policy Press, 2000

2 Bryony Beresford and Christine Oldman, Housing Matters: National Evidence Relating to Disabled Children and their Housing, Policy Press, 2002

3 Mark Bevan, Housing and Disabled Children: The Art of the Possible, Policy Press, 2002

All reports available from

Gaynor Wingham is director of the Professional Independents Consultancy.

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