The neglect of a child with intellectual disability as reported in Australian news media: A Foucauldian discourse analysis

Jessica Keeley, Vincent O. Mancini, Emily Castell, Lauren J. Breen

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People with intellectual disability experience a high risk of being neglected and family members are often identified as the perpetrators. Analysing the media provides insight into public narratives about social problems. A search of Australian newspapers published between 2016 and 2021 identified 27 articles that predominately reported on a single case of familial neglect of an individual with intellectual disability. Using Foucauldian discourse analysis, 4 discourses and 3 subject positions were identified. The discourses include Criminal justice and law enforcement (perpetrator responsibility), Political (government responsibility), Medical (physical outcomes of neglect), and Graphic (gruesome details). The subject positions construct people with intellectual disability as different, vulnerable, and present limited consideration of suffering. This study centres on a single case providing an example of the harmful narratives presented by the Australian news media. The lack of news coverage hinders opportunities for people with intellectual disability to participate equally in society. Points of interest: People with intellectual disability are more likely to be maltreated that people without and maltreatment within the family can be particularly difficult to identify. The findings of this study centre on a single case demonstrating that neglect of people with intellectual disability is rarely reported in the Australian news media. This study found that Australian news media can shift responsibility away from parents who neglect their children with intellectual disability. The physical and gruesome outcomes of neglect can be used to make stories more newsworthy. In the Australian news media, people with intellectual disability can be described as being different to the rest of society. This is harmful because it can restrict how people with intellectual disability can participate in society. This study suggests that social attitudes (presented through the media) about people with intellectual disability within the context of family neglect demonstrate social inequality and require change.

Original languageEnglish
JournalDisability and Society
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Jan 2023

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