Understanding the experiences of minority ethnic heritage parents who have a child with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND)

  • Sarwat Akbar

Student thesis: Doctor of Educational and Child Psychology


Understanding of disability varies across diverse communities and can be shaped by culture and religion. Community members’ experiences of special educational services and administrative processes can be frustrating. In response to calls for the promotion of social justice and children’s rights, the need for ‘culturally competent’ services to children, families and schools has been identified since the 1980s. Research has shown that culturally adapted services can improve outcomes for children and families in the area of mental health. The first paper is an international, cross-cultural systematic literature review exploring the views of minority ethnic heritage (MEH) parents/caregivers about having a child with a disability. The findings suggest that the experience is challenging for the parents/caregivers, compounded by familial and cultural factors, such as life-long stigma for the individual and the family, leading to individuals with SEND being hidden from society. The second paper is a qualitative, empirical study exploring the views of ten Pakistani MEH parents with a child with a ‘hidden disability’ such as a development delay. In-depth interviews and thematic analysis were used. For these parents, hidden disabilities are more difficult to understand, explain and seek services for, leading to strained marital relationships, whilst religious faith acts as a protective factor. Within the SEND processes, language barriers, power differentials and mistrust may be barriers to accessing appropriate services and the statutory process for special educational needs assessment is viewed as unclear, slow paced and lacking ‘parental voice’. Implications for educational psychologists and other services for children and families include adapting services to engage members of diverse communities for the protection and promotion of children’s rights. The third paper discusses the dissemination of the research which will include delivering training/workshops for schools (both mainstream and specialist) and local authorities, and through presentations in international conferences and publications.
Date of Award31 Dec 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorKevin Woods (Supervisor) & Caroline Bond (Supervisor)


  • children's rights
  • ethnic minority
  • special educational needs and disability
  • parents' experience
  • statutory processes
  • social justice

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