Archive for the 'Young People and Families' Category

Siblings with and without disabilities think differently to each other about the comparison of their young adult experiences – and why it matters

This blog piece is based on the following article: Meltzer, A. (2017) Comparative life experiences: Young adult siblings with and without disabilities’ different understandings of their respective life experiences during young adulthood. Families, Relationships and Societies, early view.

Originally published by Sibling Leadership Network on 1st December 2017. 


It’s a familiar feeling. You are a sibling of a person with a disability in your late teens or early 20s. You are busy constructing your life around you – doing new things, making new relationships, learning to drive, moving out of home, finishing school, starting work. Your world is expanding. And yet there is something uncomfortable lingering in your mind. Maybe it is a feeling of guilt, maybe it is a feeling of inequity, maybe it is a feeling of being awkwardly advantaged. Whatever it is, it is a feeling that is there when you look over at the experience of your brother or sister with a disability and see that these life changes that you are making come with more hurdles when your brother or sister tries to do the same things – or perhaps they are things that you believe your brother or sister may never do at all. You value your own life and experiences, but that feeling is always there somewhere. It’s hard to think about and even harder to talk about, especially with your brother or sister themselves – because it feels unkind to point out the discrepancy between you to them – so you bury the feeling and forge ahead, valuing your own experiences, but carrying that sense of disquiet always with you too.

… But what if it did not have to be this way?

What if your brother or sister thought about the situation differently to you?

What if, by never asking them about it, you missed your opportunity to discover that perhaps they do not perceive the differences in the same way as you?

How might that new knowledge help you?


What does research say about how each sibling thinks about the comparison?

I conducted research about the relationships between young adult siblings with and without disabilities. I spoke to 25 young people with a disability and 21 of their brothers and sisters about what their sibling relationships are like and how they navigate their lives together during young adulthood. As a researcher, I had the opportunity to ask questions that might usually be too hard to ask directly within families… I had the opportunity to ask what each thought about their respective life experiences during young adulthood, especially the comparison between them.


What did siblings of people with disabilities say?

The story that siblings of people with disabilities told me was usually consistent with the scenario at the beginning of this post. Most siblings of people with disabilities generally perceived themselves as advantaged during young adulthood compared to their brothers and sisters. They perceived they had easier and more numerous opportunities – and that in the future they would be able to learn, work and live where and with whom they wanted, but they were unsure if their brother or sister would get to experience the same things as them. Often they appeared to feel that this was an awkward and inequitable difference between then. Often they felt bad about it, and sometimes they felt guilty about it.


What did young people with disabilities say?

However, when I spoke to young people with disabilities, they told me a different story – or actually, a range of different stories. Young people with disabilities had a variety of different views about the comparison between them and their brothers and sisters, of which feeling disadvantaged was only one possible option. Across my research, young people with disabilities told me other ways they felt:

  • The difference isn’t about disability.

Some young people with disabilities did not view the comparison between themselves and their brothers and sisters as about disability at all. Instead, they explained the differences between them to be because of other factors that affect all siblings – age differences, making different choices, having different preferences or enjoying different personalities. One sister with a disability said, for example, that she did not mind that all her younger sisters were married when she as the older sister was not, because she preferred the control that comes with being single. When the comparison between siblings’ experiences was not seen as about disability, the differences between them felt far less awkward.

  • I want that too, I just don’t focus on feeling bad about it.

Other young people with disabilities did see the differences between themselves and their brothers and sisters as about disability – and they did indeed want to share their siblings’ experiences – but they did not to focus on feeling too negatively about it. One brother, for example, just stated the differences in a matter of fact way and then moved on to talking about other things he cared about more. Another person noted that she did feel jealous and frustrated about her siblings doing things she could not do easily – such as travelling or moving out of home – but said she also felt genuinely happy for her siblings’ experiences and did not resent them taking up those opportunities, in fact, she wanted them to. Others spoke about advocating or fighting for their right to be able to take up those experiences themselves, but did not blame their siblings for gaining the experiences with greater ease.

  • Actually, there are benefits to the differences between us.

Finally, some young people with disabilities noted benefits to themselves of the differences between them and their brothers and sisters. Some felt that their own experience was better, such as two young women who felt that their disability made their academic achievements appear all the better compared to their siblings. Another person felt that her sister’s experiences acted as a reminder to her family of the level of choice and autonomy that she herself should also be recognised as having, and therefore that her sister’s different experiences actually helped to safeguard her own quality of life.

This range of views highlights that young people with disabilities commonly think differently to their brothers and sisters without disabilities about the comparison between their life experiences during young adulthood. It does not discount the possibility that some young people with disabilities may feel disadvantaged and may resent the inequality they experience compared to their siblings – but it highlights that this is one of a range of possible views. The research also does not suggest that young people with disabilities do not want to share their siblings’ experiences or that they are completely satisfied with their opportunities – many would indeed like more opportunities, the research just highlights that often they are able to see this in a broader perspective of the whole of their lives and relationships. Finally, the research does not represent all young people with disabilities – although people with a range of disabilities were included, including intellectual disability, there is still more to find out about what, for example, people with a high level of support and communication needs think. The research does however show a range of possible views.


Why does this matter? What can be gained from listening to what young people with disabilities say?

The findings of this research matter because they highlight that young people with disabilities have different views to their brothers and sisters, and that sometimes they may see their own experiences during young adulthood as more normalised, more empowered or in a different perspective than their siblings without disabilities do. Understanding young people with disabilities’ own views about their lives is important, not only for hearing what they have to say, but also because appreciating their perspectives may help sibling relationships.

Understanding young people with disabilities’ broad range of possible views means that the awkward sense of inequity that some young adult siblings of people with disabilities feel may not always reflect what their brother or sister is actually experiencing – it may reflect a more difficult or troubled view of what disability means in their brother or sister’s life than what that brother or sister actually feels themselves. Understanding the broad range of possible views should not stop siblings of people with disabilities acknowledging and challenging the inequities of their comparative opportunities – however, it does suggest that sibling relationships might improve, and feel less awkward, if young adult siblings of people with disabilities knew more about their brother or sister’s perspective. With this knowledge, young adult siblings with and without disabilities can perhaps together have relationships where they see their comparative experiences in a new light, building on each other’s understandings.


Ariella Meltzer is an adult sibling and a researcher at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

The full article is available for free in the month of December 2017. You can download it here.

The politics of emotion: What we can learn from responses to child abuse and social work

In this blog post (originally posted on Discover Society, February 01, 2015), Senior Social Work Lecturer Jo Warner (University of Kent) discusses the political and social impact of media responses to child abuse.


Jo Warner, Social Work Lecturer

For some 40 years, responses to the deaths of children from abuse and neglect have been characterised by increasing levels of anger and hostility towards the social workers involved.

In the UK, this hostility reached its zenith in late 2008 with political, media and public responses to the death of Peter Connelly (‘Baby P’). When The Sun newspaper declared ‘Blood on their hands’ on its front page of 12th November 2008, it was not referring to Peter Connelly’s killers but to the professionals involved in the case. Wide-ranging reforms to social work followed and intense debate about the case continues. The ‘Baby P effect’ is reflected to some degree in the numbers of children in care, which have increased significantly since 2008 and are now at their highest level for twenty years. Continue reading ‘The politics of emotion: What we can learn from responses to child abuse and social work’

Universal Credit developments since publication of “Understanding Universal Credit”

blog_sam-royston_200x200pxSam Royston is Head of Policy and Public Affairs at the Children’s Society, and author of “Understanding Universal Credit”, published in the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice in February 2012. Since the original publication of this article there have been a number of policy updates affecting the delivery of the new system.  In this blog Sam summarises those change that particularly relate to the content of his article published in 2012.  The original article is free to access until 31st October 2014.


At the time of publication, the Government intended to introduce childcare support under Universal Credit at a rate covering 70% of childcare costs. “Understanding Universal Credit” showed that this would be a much lower rate of support than some families can receive through the current system as a result of a combination of childcare support through Tax Credits, Housing Benefit, and (what was at the time of writing) Council Tax Benefit.

Since publication, the Government have sought to address this problem by providing an 85% rate of childcare support for families in receipt of Universal Credit. As a result, although some families would continue to receive less support than under the current system, any difference will be considerably less.

Since 2012, the government has also introduced plans for a new “Tax Free Childcare” scheme. Although families in receipt of Universal Credit will not be entitled to receive Tax Free Childcare, differences in the way the two systems will be administered and paid may create some complexities for those caught between the two systems. These issues are expected to be debated during the course of the “childcare payments bill” in Autumn 2014.

Free School Meals (and other passported benefits)

The successful implementation of Universal Credit continues to be threatened by the potential introduction of a benefits “cliff edge” as a result of the interaction between Universal Credit and various passported benefits – including, most significantly, Free School Meals.

Notably, the Government have still not yet made a final decision about eligibility for Free School Meals under Universal Credit, however, an “interim” solution of providing Free School Meals to all families in receipt of Universal Credit has been implemented.* In order to avoid undermining the progressive work incentive intentions of Universal Credit, it is critical that these rules remain in place following the roll out of Universal Credit.

Payment of Universal Credit

“Understanding Universal Credit” raises concerns that Universal Credit will typically be paid monthly and payments will not normally be able to be “split” between joint claimants. Increasingly concerns have also been raised about plans to pay “direct housing payments” (payments of the housing component to the tenant – rather than to the housing provider) through Universal Credit for tenants in the social rental sector – an arrangement which already exists for most tenants in the private rental sector. Concerns have been raised that these arrangements may lead to many social housing tenants to get into rental arrears.

The government has since released guidance on the circumstances under which “alternative payment arrangements” (APAs) will be considered. APAs would enable claimants to have their Universal Credit payment split, paid more frequently than monthly, or have the housing component paid to their landlord. Concerns remain that claimants will not be able to “opt in” to these arrangements for themselves, without this provision it remains a real concern that claimants unable to manage their money effectively, may not be able to get the support they need in order to do so.

Changes to the timeline for the introduction of Universal Credit

The government has significantly slowed the introduction of Universal Credit since original plans were laid out (for example, as late as the start of 2013, the DWP website stated that all new claims would be for Universal Credit from April 2014). During the initial period of the pathfinder, claims have only been able to be made by people with very specific circumstances, and in a very limited number of areas of the country. As of May 2014 only 6570 people were in receipt of Universal Credit .

Since this point, the government has begun to extend the pathfinder to additional jobcentres, and the service has opened to its first new claims from couples. From towards the end of this year, Universal Credit is expected to begin to take new claims from families with children for the first time.

It should also be noted that the Government’s decision to provide Free School Meals for all children in reception, year 1 and year 2, solves the difficulties arising from the interaction of Free School Meals and Universal Credit for this group of children.

The Journal of Poverty and Social Justice provides a unique blend of high-quality research, policy and practice from leading authors in the field related to all aspects of poverty and social exclusion.  For more information or to request a free trial please see our website here.

Author Interview – Naomi Eisenstadt

Naomi Eisenstadt, senior research fellow at the University of Oxford and a retired civil servant who ran the Sure Start Unit for its first seven years, is the author of ‘Providing a Sure Start: How government discovered early childhood‘. Here she answers some questions we put to her:

TPP: How did you come to be interested in your area of work?

NE: I first got interested in working with very young children when I was at university in California. I was at the time, and still am particularly interested in language development. I also was attracted to early years practice because small children are so honest about boredom. The onus is squarely on the adult to be interesting and engaging. The children have choice.

TPP: Describe a typical day (if there is such a thing!).

NE: A typical day when I was doing the work described in the book was lots of meetings, lots of running from one government building in Whitehall to the next, waiting for ministerial meetings to start and arranging visits to local Sure Start programmes. Reading and writing was done on the train to and from work, or at weekends.

TPP: What was your main goal in writing this book?

NE: My main goal was to try to explain the complexity of policy making. I wanted to surface the underlying assumptions that ministers had about Sure Start, how both implicit and explicit assumptions shaped the policy and the interweaving of evidence, gut feelings and politics around the policy process. I also wanted to get down what I think were the key lessons we learned.

TPP: What do you think of current government’s use of resources to make a positive change for young children?

NE: The current government has taken some really important steps to build on the accomplishments of the last in terms of services for young children, and in budgetary terms, early years has not suffered as much as many other areas. My main concern is the removal of the ring fence. So as other areas of expenditure are squeezed, at local level, early years money will be used on other things.

TPP: What do you think is the most pressing issue moving forward in creating and maintaining youth-directed programs in lieu of events such as the August riots and the growing public concern over the futures of our young children?

NE: My major concern is not about service delivery, but about unemployment, affecting young as well as older working-aged adults. There will be increases in child poverty as unemployment rises and new benefits systems take hold.

TPP: What do you feel is the biggest hurdle to overcome when implementing programmes and policies directed at helping families and young children?

NE: My main conclusions from the book were that we made two serious mistakes, which really remain the hurdles for programme implementation. We did not sufficiently recognise the difficulty of the task of running the programme, and hence failed to provide the ongoing development, support, and performance framework that would have ensured higher quality earlier on. Secondly, we did not understand how long it would take for programmes to become established in local communities. In part, our efforts to get as much set up as possible in a short time, meant we neglected the needs of the new work force needed for implementation.

Many thanks Naomi. If you’d like to know more about ‘Providing a Sure Start‘, the book can be ordered here at 20% discount.

Author Interview – Rachel Thomson and Mary Jane Kehily

Becoming a mother is a profound moment of identity change for women and also a point of socio-economic difference that shapes women’s lives. Making modern mothers was published in June and documents the transition to motherhood over generations and time. It explores, amongst other things, the trend to later motherhood and the experience of teenage pregnancy and a compelling picture emerges. We asked two of its authors, Rachel Thomson and Mary Jane Kehily to tell us more about the book and their research.

TPP: What did you hope to discover through your work in Making modern mothers?
Where there any surprises?

RT & MJK: One thing that motivated us from the start was to get a sense of how social change is actually lived in families – how mothers and daughters manage changing expectations and values. We know something about this from our own families but doing a study like this gave us the opportunity to explore these questions on a much broader canvas. We also wanted to update the feminist account of motherhood, feeling that the picture of motherhood in the social sciences was forged by the baby boomer generation. We felt that some important things had changed and wanted to know what motherhood looked like through a different generational location. Empirical research always produces surprises – the world is always more complex and rich than we expect. The diversity of mothering that we discovered was surprising, partly because it is so seldom shown. Simply representing this is important, revealing the poverty of the popular ‘figures’ that we tend to rely on and think with.

TPP: Which came first in your research: childhood or motherhood?

RT & MJH: For both of us research on childhood and youth came first. But when you study youth you also study young people’s understandings and imaginings of adulthood which always involves the markers of ‘settling down’ and parenthood. We have also both researched young people’s sexuality and the cultural controversies that surround teenage pregnancy and parenthood. Extending our analysis of the life course from youth to maternity and back to childhood made perfect sense.

TPP: Have you felt through this research that the traditional heteronormative, late 20s/early 30s married parental system has fallen by the wayside? Many of the women you focus on in the book certainly do not fall into this ideal. What do you make of the changes? Do you see any patterns? Are they simply the adaptations of a world of more options and opportunity?

RT & MJK: We deliberately sought to represent diversity in our study – however there are still patterns in the timing of motherhood. The middle age group of women aged between 25 and 36 reflects the majority experience of women becoming mothers for the first time, and establishes a cultural norm that means that those having babies earlier and later are seen to be young and old mothers respectively. In many ways the timing of motherhood is more culturally loaded than other aspects of difference such as marital status and sexuality which would have been much more important in a previous generation. So yes, in a way the normative model of married, heterosexual, stay at home motherhood is increasingly anachronistic – and ‘timely’ motherhood that synchronises career, relationship and economic independence is the cultural ideal.

TPP: Has the process of researching and becoming involved in the lives of these women changed your perspective on motherhood?

RT & MJK: Inevitably. There is not such thing as a neutral position with motherhood. We are all daughters and sons, and we all have a position in relation to mothering, whether that is as someone for whom mothering is no longer a possibility, through the experience of reflecting back on it, being in the thick of it and seeing it on the horizon. The research team paid attention to their own personal investments as part of the research, and this enriched the research process, the data and our interpretations.

TPP: Which of the stories in the book or aspects of a story affected you most? Why?

RT & MJK: That is hard to answer. In one way it was the case study families that had greatest impact on me – simply because we met so many family members and witnessed change over time.  When we wrote about these families we sometimes felt that we had become part of the family ourselves. But some of the most powerful connections may have been those that were relatively transient – like the young mother who we met in a special residential unit and who we lost contact with after she lost her much wanted baby.

TPP: Many thanks for your time and the insights into your work. Making modern mothers is now available with a 20% discount. You can order your copy here.

The lives of families in their own words

Family futures coverFamily futures is about family life in areas of concentrated poverty and social problems, areas where it is difficult to bring up children and where surrounding conditions make family life more fraught and more limited. Families are at the forefront of change and progress as children are our common future, and what we do to them today will shape all our tomorrows. In poorer communities many strands of disadvantage combine because one problem compounds another, making these areas unpopular with families with choice. Yet low-income families need affordable housing above all, so they cluster in estates of social housing in the most problematic areas. A sense of belonging or community becomes vital because most low income families do not have cars, so they are dependent on local services and connections for most of their family needs and activities.

These neighbourhoods have long been poor, working class areas; their large estates were a product of earlier slum clearance and rebuilding before and after the Second World War. The proportion of newcomers, usually migrants from abroad, in all the areas has grown rapidly since the 1980s, following the loss of traditional local jobs and better housing options elsewhere for local families with more choice. This has compounded the pressures on already disadvantaged areas.

Parents with little choice about where they live have a stronger than average concern about their neighbourhoods. They try to control and shape their immediate surroundings but they rely not just on who their neighbours are and what family members they live near, but on wider structures and services that they cannot shape on their own. All the areas have many local facilities and services, added incrementally over years of effort to improve social conditions and reduce neighbourhood problems, but the overall condition of all the areas is poor. We talked to 200 families over ten years from 1998 to 2008, collecting their views on community problems and on how the areas changed during that time.

This book relies on the words of families themselves to answer three important questions:

What are the main challenges facing families in poor areas?

How are the areas changing and the challenges being met?

Have government efforts helped or hindered progress over the past decade?

Since 1998, many public and private initiatives have targeted area conditions and low income families, but it is rare to hear what families give their views on what works and doesn’t work, explain what helps and what hinders their children’s progress, what gaps there are and what new approaches may help. Parents have both positive and negative experiences of neighbourhood services and programmes in the most difficult areas; we point to the conspicuous gaps still waiting to be closed. Therefore, behind our questions about bringing up children in low income areas lie much bigger worries:

What future do families face in disadvantaged areas?

How far is the wider society responsible for that future?

Family futures by Anne Power, Helen Willmot and Rosemary Davidson, publishing this month, shows how responsibility can be shared.

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