What is the social model of disability and why is it important in child mental health?

What is the social model of disability and why is it important in child mental health?

Sara McLean and Chris
12 May 2021

This webinar explored the social model of disability, how it relates to children’s mental health and considerations for working with children and families.

Family in the park

This webinar was held on Wednesday, 12 May 2021. Please post your questions and comments below.

A full recording of the webinar and related resources, including slides, audio and a transcript, will be published soon. Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive a notification when these resources are available.

Children living with disability are affected by the same factors that influence the mental health and wellbeing of other children. However, there are additional considerations that can help practitioners and parents separate a child’s social and emotional functioning, communication and behaviour from their disability, and better support them.

This webinar explored the social model of disability, specifically the three additional factors that influence a child’s experience of disability – the nature of the condition, its impact on daily activities and its impact on participation.

Drawing on two case studies, this webinar:

  • Identified how disability can positively and negatively influence children’s mental health and wellbeing
  • Explored how the social model of disability can inform approaches to practice and parenting to better support children’s mental health, wellbeing and development
  • Emphasised the importance of seeing the ‘whole child’, not just their disability.

This webinar is of interest to professionals supporting children living with disability, and/or their families, including disability support workers and allied health professionals.

This webinar was co-produced by CFCA and Emerging Minds in a series focusing on children’s mental health. They are working together as part of the Emerging Minds: National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health, which is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health under the National Support for Child and Youth Mental Health Program.

Emerging Minds logo

Featured image: © GettyImages/monkeybusinessimages

About the presenters

Sara McLean

Dr Sara McLean is a registered psychologist and member of the Emerging Minds content development team. Sara also runs a private practice and consultancy in the areas of child protection, disability and developmental difference, and children with challenging behaviours. Sara has published widely on the support needs of children with developmental difference arising from disability, prenatal and early life adversity, and trauma. Sara is also the author of the Fostering Difference website and materials, and the book, Parenting Traumatised Children with Developmental Difference (Jessica Kingsley Publishers). Sara was awarded the ACU Linacre Fellowship at Oxford University in recognition of her critical analysis of the out-of-home care system, and her work supporting children in care.


Chris is a 40-year-old mother of two beautiful boys aged nine-and-a-half and 11. She grew up in New Zealand, where she studied a Bachelor of Social Science/Human Services before moving to London. There, she spent five years working in high support pediatric and volunteering for disability camps, working with a whole range of therapies. Looking for a quieter lifestyle, Chris moved to Christmas Island where she fell pregnant with her two sons. While the island was an amazing place for the boys to grow up, her younger son’s complex medical needs meant numerous flights to Perth and month-long stays for medical treatment. This was very draining on the family and eventually led them to relocate to the mainland. After enjoying two years travelling around Australia, the family settled in Adelaide, where they have access to the best therapists and an amazing team of support workers. Her son attends a special school which he seems to really love, lives in a house that is fully modified with hoists and equipment to suit his needs and can take part in a variety of activities. While Chris admits the family miss life ‘back home’, she says moving to Adelaide was the best decision they could have made.

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