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Child Disability and Family Life

Project description

The impact of raising a disabled child

The effects of raising a disabled child can be numerous and varied, and affect the entire family household. In Europe, approximately 4 % of children have various disabilities, and about a million of them attend special schools. However, there is a lack of research that summarises the challenges and processes of families with disabled children. The EU-funded Frailife project aims to fill this crucial gap by using a comparative and population approach to unveil heterogeneous effects, family outcomes and pathways, short- and long-term effects, mechanisms and causalities. This project will allow for an analysis of the general functionality of families with disabled children to inform better policies of the most fragile families in European society.


Across the European Union, approximately 4% among individuals under age 16 have a disability, and over 15 million school-age children are known to have special educational needs. Disabilities limit children in their everyday activities and impact families in myriad ways. FRAILIFE aims to comprehensively analyze the effects of a child disability on family members – parents, siblings, and grandparents – in Europe, using high-quality data (registers, surveys, social media), innovative research designs and methods. By focusing on the impact of child disability on family members’ life course trajectories, health outcomes, and social participation, FRAILIFE speaks to both general family processes and the special case of Europe’s frailest families. The existing literature on families with a disabled child is scattered, built on small convenience samples, and often focused on a specific disease; the findings are inconclusive and non-generalizable. FRAILIFE
elevates the evidentiary standard by: i) using a population approach, which compares families with and without a disabled child and provides opportunities to uncover heterogeneous effects; ii) going beyond simple associations between child disability and family outcomes to establish causal pathways, identify underlying mechanisms, and uncover causal effects; iii) investigating both short- and long-term consequences of child disability on families; iv) adopting a comparative perspective to uncover the moderating effects of institutions
and culture. Beyond the specific insights about the networked consequences of disability, this project contributes to the field of family demography, as the analysis of extremely frail families has relevance for the general functioning of all families facing adverse events. FRAILIFE will bring families with a disabled child out of their invisibility, offering new and important insights on their functioning, characteristics, and challenges, while informing effective family-centered policy

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 401 938,00
20136 Milano

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Nord-Ovest Lombardia Milano
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 401 938,00

Beneficiaries (1)