Academic journal article Social Work

Financial Well-Being of Young Children with Disabilities and Their Families

Academic journal article Social Work

Financial Well-Being of Young Children with Disabilities and Their Families

Article excerpt

When disability is defined on the basis of functional limitations in mobility, self-care, communication, or learning, children with disabilities represent approximately 12.3 percent of the population of children ages 5 to 17 in the United States (Hogan, Msall, Rogers, & Avery 1997) or approximately 6.55 million children in 2000 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006). Children with disabilities are significantly more likely to live in poverty than other children. Twenty-eight percent of children with disabilities lived in households with income below the federal poverty level compared with 16 percent of children without disabilities (Fujiura & Yamaki, 2000).

The purpose of this article is to provide a critical review and analysis of the constellation of factors that affect the financial well-being of young children with disabilities and their families. Children with disabilities are a significant proportion of the general child population, and social workers encounter these children and their families across an array of practice domains, including health and mental health settings, schools, social services agencies, and the disability service system. Social workers who understand these families' circumstances can provide responsive services to this vulnerable population.

For children, generally, living in poverty is associated with a host of adverse consequences, including poor physical health, diminished cognitive abilities, emotional and behavioral problems, and reduced educational attainment (Brooks-Gunn & Duncan, 1997). But there is mounting concern that poverty has more deleterious effects for children with disabilities than it does for typically developing children (Park, Turnbull, & Turnbull, 2002).

The causes of increased poverty among children with disabilities are not well understood (Fujiura & Yamaki, 2000), but children's financial well-being in the general population is directly related to parental employment (Lichter & Eggebeen, 1994). Parental employment is possible when an array of factors converge--available jobs, suitable and affordable child care, transportation, and sufficient skills and training to permit a parent to compete in the workforce. Among families with typically developing children, these preconditions of employment are well documented and relatively well understood (Blau, 1998; Waldfogel, 1997). But how do these circumstances differ for families of children with disabilities?


The following factors are associated with or influence families' financial well-being: the elevated costs of caregiving for children with disabilities, income transfer programs, employment for parents of children with disabilities, and its associated complements--child care and leave time (Ferber & Nelson, 1993; General Accounting Office [GAO], 1999; Waldfogel, 1997, 2001).

Elevated Costs of Caregiving

A limited number of empirical studies of the economic implications of having a child with disabilities have explored the financial expenses associated with caregiving. Unfortunately, much of the research was conducted in the 1980s and early 1990s, and the costs of caregiving may be somewhat different today. However, the existing research provides a stark depiction of the underlying cost differences between raising children with and without disabilities.

Researchers have attempted to estimate the incremental costs attributable to the care needs of children with disabilities, in excess of the care needs of children without disabilities of the same age (for example, Newachek & McManus, 1988). Other efforts have estimated out-of-pocket costs for children with disabilities or chronic health conditions (for example, Birenbaum, Guyot, & Cohen, 1990; Fujiura, Roccoforte, & Braddock, 1994). Both types of inquiries have found that families incur dramatic monetary costs to meet their children's impairment-related expenses. …

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