What Factors affect Child Development?

There are many factors affecting child development and behaviour. Education, health and poverty will all have an influence, as will relationships.  In this article, I will be focussing on two main factors affecting child development: ethnicity and disability.

I investigated these issues by visiting a local Children's Centre based in the UK. Names and places have been cut out or amended to ensure confidentiality.

Factors that Affect Child Development - Disability

During a social work experience placement, I attended a meeting to gather views and experiences of the parents of disabled children. What is important to remember is the range of disabilities that there are – what influences one disabled child’s development may not be the case for another. 

For example, a deaf child may experience more problems with speech and language development.  A child in a wheelchair will need plenty of space, while a child with visual impairment may need textured and brightly coloured equipment.  However, it is beneficial to look at what the person can do (ability), rather than what they cannot do (disability), and how the external limiting factors can be adapted and overcome so that the person does not feel discriminated against. This is more likely to assist development and fits in with a social, rather than medical model of social work with disabled children and adults.

Medical and Social Models of Disability

Within the medical model of disability, a person’s functional limitations are the cause of any disadvantages experienced, and these disadvantages can therefore only be rectified by treatment or cure.

The social model, in contrast, shifts the focus from impairment onto disability, using the term disability to refer to disabling social, environmental and attitudinal barriers rather than lack of ability. It is therefore the loss or limitation of opportunities resulting from direct and indirect discrimination that is the problem, rather than the person’s impairment itself.  The removal of disabling barriers is the solution to the disadvantages that people experience (Crow, 1996).

A Group Discussion with Parents of Disabled Children

During the discussion group with the parents of disabled children, the parents raised the issue of the possible need for special equipment.  The children’s centre manager explained that there is funding available for special equipment that is needed to make sessions accessible for disabled children, and that if there is something specific that they need, they should let her know.  Previously, it had been difficult for disabled children to attend sessions if there was a lack of specialist equipment (such as  sensory equipment, hoists or safety harnesses). 

Once parents understood that they could make special requests, they were much more open to receiving the activity booklets which I photocopied and distributed. This was very positive, as some disabled children may be missing out on social development if they are not attending sessions. Therefore, by adopting a social model rather than a medical model of social work with disabled children, the children’s centre can remove barriers and limitations to make the sessions accessible for all, without focusing on the negative aspects of what disabilities or medical impairments the children have.

Factors affecting Child Development - Ethnicity

In order to understand how culture and ethnicity affects human behaviour and development, I decided to liaise with the children’s centre manager and the community cohesion officer in the area. As a team we explored possible ways of canvassing the ethnic minority communities, and contributed ideas for a questionnaire. 

Working collaboratively with the area community cohesion officer, and utilising my language skills in Polish and Hindi, I approached local shops and work places to drop off the questionnaires and canvass views.  We also ran a Polish drop in, so that families could informally discuss how we can help them and improve the provision and facilities to meet their needs.

I found out that the language barrier is a big issue for some ethnic minority communities. Culture and religion also have an impact on child development.

Ways forward to support Ethnic Minority Families

Social workers should be acting anti-oppressively.  This should not mean treating people equally, but ensuring that people have equal opportunities and are not oppressed due to influencing factors. This means that special provision should be put in place to support the disabled and ethnic minority families.

My recommendations for the children's centre included the need to improve their provision include a peer support group for parents of disabled children and free ESOL (English as a Second Language) learning opportunities.  These are already being organised and put in place.

In addition, to support the polish communities further, a Polish speaking volunteer has been recruited to help with interpreting at the health centre and encouraging Polish families to attend sessions. It is also my hope that the children’s centre will collaborate with the Priest at St. Mary’s Church, as many Polish families are Catholic and attend Church on Sundays.   One event, including a Polish tradition talent show and an international food festival have also been suggested, and I hope that the children’s centre will continue to implement these ideas as I move on.

A great concern at the moment is the UK government budget cuts, which undoubtedly have meant that some children's centres have had to close. Please campaign to allow these facilities to continue.