Caring for children with disabilities


Senator Sonny Angara

For couples blessed with children, there is nothing more gratifying than watching them grow up and become productive members of society with their own unique and individual personalities. But, in many instances, having a child could also be very challenging — especially when they are born with or end up acquiring a disability. Depending on the financial status of the parents, raising a child with disability could be extremely costly and oftentimes overwhelming for the couple.

A study released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on the cost of raising children with disabilities in the Philippines was released in September last year, providing policymakers with very useful insights into what many Filipino families are dealing with and what steps need to be taken to help them deal with their unique circumstances.

Done in partnership with the Department of Social Welfare and Development and Australian Aid, the study showed that raising a child with disabilities in the Philippines would entail expenditures 40 to 80 percent higher compared to raising a child without disabilities. This is due in large part to the additional costs for health expenditures considering the special needs of the disabled child. On top of this is the cost of education that could very well be higher than what is required from families with children without disabilities.

The study estimated that there are around 325,000 children with disabilities across the country. The estimates were based on the number of children who have persons with disabilities identification cards (PWD ID). It also noted that as many as 1.27 million children with disabilities do not have PWD IDs. This means that one in every five children with disabilities do not have a PWD ID card.

Under Republic Act 9442, which my father, the former Senate President Ed Angara introduced back in 2007, PWDs are entitled to a 20 percent discount on goods and services including medicines, domestic land, sea and air transport, restaurants, and medical and dental services. Educational assistance is also extended to PWDs for them to pursue primary, secondary, tertiary, post tertiary, as well as vocational or technical education, in both public and private schools, through the provision of scholarships, grants, financial aids, subsidies and other incentives.

In order to avail of these benefits, qualified beneficiaries are required to secure PWD IDs. Hence, the huge number of children with disabilities who do not have PWD IDs is something that must be addressed swiftly.

Poor households obviously suffer the most in dealing with the financial requirements of raising children with disabilities. Without the necessary interventions, the medical needs of the children could easily be neglected and any hope for them to rehabilitate, become productive members of society or even to live long and fruitful lives would be extinguished.

It is also very likely that they will be out of school. There are almost four million out-of-school youths (OSYs) in the country and the reasons they have for dropping out vary. But around 50 percent of the OSYs belong to families whose income fall within the bottom 30 percent of the population based on their per capita income. For households with children with disabilities, the educational requirements would most likely be higher and more specialized so the costs would also be greater than what other children would incur.

This is where special education (SPED) program of the Department of Education plays a key role and as we have done in the national budgets in the past, we ensured that this will continue to be funded this year. Under the 2023 General Appropriations Act, ₱580 million was allocated for the SPED, an amount that has gradually gone up every year — from ₱107 million in 2020 to ₱329.2 million in 2021 and ₱560.2 million in 2022.

There is clearly a need to go the extra mile in accounting for all the unregistered children with disabilities. This starts by raising awareness and with the help of the local government units, finding out how many households are covered, registering them and coming up with a centralized database that can be accessed by the national government agencies.

In the coming months we will be meeting with various stakeholders to see what can be done to address these issues. It is easy for these children to fall through the cracks, which is something that we must not allow to happen. Our laws and health care system should always be progressive and inclusive to ensure that no one is left behind.

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Senator Sonny Angara has been in public service for 18 years — nine years as Representative of the lone district of Aurora, and nine as Senator. He has authored, co-authored, and sponsored more than 330 laws. He is currently serving his second term in the Senate.