site.btaUNICEF Study Sheds Light on Attitudes towards Children with Disabilities in Bulgaria
Around 80% of parents of children under 6 without disabilities believe that children with physical or intellectual disabilities suffer because of negative attitudes towards them. An equal share of parents of children with disabilities also agree with this statement.
These are some of the conclusions of a national survey of UNICEF Bulgaria focusing on social norms for children with disabilities and developmental difficulties aged between 0 and 6, carried out by the Global Metrics agency. It was conducted among parents of children with disabilities and parents of children without disabilities in that age group, health professionals and social services specialists. The survey also included focus groups with parents and in-depth interviews with children and specialists.
Emotions regarding children with disabilities
Pity is the prevailing emotion, according to the survey. Sixty-six per cent of parents of children with disabilities fully or partly agree with the statement "I feel sorry for families with children with disabilities because they are victims of unfortunate circumstances". Also, 57% of health professionals and 33% of social care professionals agree with this statement.
Focus groups with parents of children without disabilities found that children with disabilities are "shunned" and often "isolated" because they are "different" and "weird". 52% of parents of children without disabilities said they felt sorry for children with disabilities, 34% admitted they did not know how to treat them, and 35% said they felt uncomfortable and found it difficult to relax. However, 93% of respondents also said they tried to behave normally and ignore disability.
How does society treat families of children with disabilities?
The majority (nearly 59%) of the parents of children with disabilities said that others usually treated them with respect. Low rates were reported for harassment (2%), insults (3%), poor service in public places such as shops and restaurants (3%), or less polite treatment compared to other people (4%). About 7% of parents reported forms of discriminatory treatment, saying that very often "people avoid contact with them", "behave as if they are scared of them" or "behave as if they think parents of children with disabilities are not smart".
Data from focus groups with parents of children with disabilities differ from the above. They reported they faced inappropriate comments and behaviour towards their children on a daily basis. "They knock on wood - no one enjoys looking at you."
Characteristics of the families of children with disabilities
Of the interviewed parents of children without disabilities, nearly 55% said that the families of children with disabilities often show condescension for their children, try to hide their children (23%), or are ashamed that they have children with disabilities (18%).
Attitudes towards the health care system
Of the parents of children without disabilities, 88% fully or partly agree that children with physical disabilities need separate health services, and almost 80% agree that this applies to children with intellectual disabilities. In the focus groups, parents of children with disabilities said they had had unpleasant experiences with health care services. For instance, after consulting a doctor, they often feel more confused than before.
Attitudes towards institutions and policies
About 75% of parents of children with disabilities fully or partly agree that children with physical or intellectual disabilities cannot fit into society without financial assistance. Likewise, 77% of parents of children without disabilities agree that children with physical disabilities cannot fit into society without financial assistance for their families (71% for children with intellectual disabilities).
A total of 62% of parents of children without disabilities believe that families of children with disabilities are not a burden to society. This opinion is shared by 56% of healthcare professionals and 67% of social services professionals.
Data from focus groups with parents of children with disabilities and developmental difficulties also show that they do not feel sufficiently involved in policy-making that directly affects them and their children.
"It is important for UNICEF that every child has the best possible start in life. This includes supporting parents, working with professionals, and fighting against any type of social prejudice and negative attitudes towards children with disabilities that still hinder their timely access to services. The trends in the study show that the situation is improving, but there is still much work to be done so that children, especially the most vulnerable, can unleash their potential," said UNICEF Representative in Bulgaria Christina de Bruin.
The survey was conducted for the first time under a new methodology of UNICEF's Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia in partnership with Drexel University.