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Friendship Research

As part of Friendship for All, The Children’s Society commissioned the Children and Families Team at Coventry University to undertake a focused literature review on the available evidence on friendship opportunities for disabled children and young people. Click here to download the full research briefing.

The evidence review looked at:

  • what works in building friendships and creating socialising opportunities for disabled children and young people
  • what barriers disabled children and young people face in developing and sustaining friendships,
  • what gaps still exist in our research evidence base

The review found that:

  • There is a severe lack of research about disabled children’s friendships and relationships with their peers.
  • There were no studies which examined the friendship opportunities for disabled children and young people in care (residential or foster care) or in terms of short break provision.
  • Disabled children and young people identify friendships as one of the most important aspects of their lives and would like more opportunities to meet friends especially outside of school and during school holidays. A lack of accessible transport and inaccessible information on activities acts as a barrier.
  • Despite the importance of friendships to disabled children, many lack friends and often feel lonely, isolated and are subject to bullying and negative attitudes. The transition to adulthood was identified as particularly problematic for disabled young people.
  • Friendships for many disabled children and young people consisted of interactions with adults and many disabled children name their carer/personal assistant or a family member as their friend.
  • Disabled children want to develop friendships with their peers spontaneously and through choice. But they often lack control in their lives.
  • Evidence is increasingly beginning to understand the links between isolation of disabled children and young people and safeguarding concerns.
  • Research indicates that support to make, and sustain, friendships needs to be flexible and tailored to the child’s needs.
  • The new SEND reforms contained within the Children and Families Act 2014 could provide the vehicle through which services can meet disabled children and young people’s individual friendship needs and plan services which consider the importance of friendship.

Two recently published research reports have highlighted a link between social isolation and increased risk of abuse for disabled children and young people. These studies, both of which sought the views of deaf and disabled children and young people, have illustrated how perpetrators used the child’s isolation to groom them – offering them friendship and companionship – and how in some instances these situations were not questioned by adults because the child had an impairment. Further research on this issue is required.