Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Parents of Children with Disabilities in a Single-Parent Family

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Parents of Children with Disabilities in a Single-Parent Family

Article excerpt

"Being a single parent is becoming more and more common, with the US Census Bureau estimating that there are around 12 million single parent families. As relationships change and dissolve, many children are left with a lone parent." (1)

"Rearing a child with disabilities is a challenge, perhaps even more so for single parents who most often are women. Stress and negative psychological effects have been considered likely outcomes for parents of children with disabilities. With the increased family focus in the provision of services for children with disabilities, it becomes even more important to understand the sources of stress and the types of adaptations made in these families ... Single mothers of children with disabilities often were younger, had less education, and lower incomes ... Findings indicate that gross differences between single- and two-parent mothers tended to become nonsignificant when maternal education and income were taken into account." (2)

"Children with a disability are often born into low-income families, and families who care for children with a disability often slide into poverty. According to Census 2000, poverty rates among families caring for children with disabilities are 21% higher than families who do not have children with disabilities." (3)


Medicaid and the Child Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) covered about half (48%) of all children with special health care needs in 2016. Less than one in five (19%) children with disabilities receives Medicaid because they also receive federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. Other Medicaid coverage pathways for children with disabilities are offered at state option. Reflecting different state policy choices, the share of children with special health care needs covered by Medicaid/CHIP varies by state from 23% to 67%.

* Medicaid's benefit package for children, Early and Periodic Screening Diagnostic and Treatment, covers physical and behavioral health services as well as long-term care services that enable children with chronic needs to live at home with their families. Medicaid supplements special education services and fills in coverage gaps for privately insured children with special health care needs.

* Annual per enrollee spending is over seven times higher for Medicaid children who qualify through a disability pathway ($17,831) compared to those who qualify through another pathway, such as family income ($2,484) as of 2013. This reflects the greater intensity and variety of needs among most children who qualify based on a disability compared to most children who qualify through another pathway. Legislative proposals that would reduce and cap federal Medicaid funding may pose a particular risk to children with special health care needs. (4)


In terms of parental arrangements--

Nationally, (living with two parents currently married) 15.8% of children have special health care needs; ranging from, 11.4% in California and 11.6% in the District of Columbia to 22.0% in Louisiana and 22.4% in West Virginia.

Nationally, (living with a single mother) 25.2% of children have special health needs; ranging from 17.3% in Hawaii to 44.8% in Montana. (5) (See Graph 1)


"... divorce, particularly with often-attendant drops in income, parental involvement, and access to community resources, diminishes children's chances for wellbeing. It is revealed that children whose parents live apart are twice as likely to drop out of high school as those in two-parent families, one and a half times as likely to be idle in young adulthood, and twice as likely to become single parents themselves." (6)

"Although much has been written suggesting that stress, grief, and other factors associated with parenting a child with disabilities results in high rates of marital discord, marital dissatisfaction, and divorce, this notion is poorly supported by research. …

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