Single-mother led families with disabled children in Aotearoa New Zealand : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Master in Social Work at Massey University, Palmerston North, Aotearoa New Zealand
It is estimated that 11% of children who live in Aotearoa New Zealand are disabled children, with approximately 30% of these children living in a one-parent family. Currently, the vast majority, approximately 84%, of one-parent families are headed by women. Within the Aotearoa New Zealand context, relatively little is known about the space where these two spheres overlap: single mothers raising disabled children. The purpose of this study was to explore the experiences of single-mother led families with a disabled child/children in Aotearoa New Zealand. This research employed a qualitative approach, guided by social constructionism, to conduct interviews with six single mothers with a disabled child/children to explore their experiences. The topics covered included supports, networks and resources that the mothers and families have or use, experiences of accessing support services, what quality of life meant for the mothers and their family, coping mechanisms, and future considerations. A thematic analysis of the interviews was carried out. Findings from this research indicated that single mothers with a disabled child face many financial, emotional, practical and societal challenges. Despite this, mothers in this research overwhelmingly preferred their current single-parent status, valued themselves as experts in their child’s life, and redefined their identity as mother-presence as opposed to the absence of a father. The findings of this study call for critical transformation of perceptions of single mothers and disability, and urge social work and healthcare professionals to challenge stereotypes and biases towards single mothers.