Purpose: Social inclusion of children with physical disabilities is essential for their mental health. The long-standing conflict and political instability in Palestine since 1948 has resulted in an unprecedented number of children with disabilities. This study aimed to assess social inclusion and mental health of children with physical disabilities in Palestine.
Method: A mixed methods research design was used. The 12-item General Health Questionnaire and a Social Inclusion Questionnaire were administered to 100 children with amputations, 12-18 years of age, in the Gaza Strip. Ten semi-structured interviews were also conducted with personnel working across civil society rehabilitation services in the area, particularly in services that focussed on the physical rehabilitation of children who had lost a limb.
Results: Quantitative findings indicated that 88% of children’s disabilities were caused by war-related incidents. While the sample of children showed on average relatively low levels of psychological distress, males reported feeling more socially included and having better mental health than did females. Furthermore, there was a strong positive correlation between mental health and social inclusion, and a moderate positive correlation between psychological distress and social inclusion. The qualitative data identified different factors that hinder social inclusion, mainly: political instability; under-resourced disability organisations; lack of coordinated efforts; and negative societal attitudes towards disability.
Conclusion: A new questionnaire for social inclusion was developed, which can now be used as a tool to assess social inclusion in similar contexts; as well as a culturally-adapted form of the General Health Questionnaire-12 to assess mental health. There is a clear need for service-providers to move beyond a medical model of care to one that embraces community-based rehabilitation and the realisation of rights, in order to promote the social inclusion and mental health of children with disabilities in Palestinian society.