Protecting disabled children from abuse ‘We have the right to be safe’

We know that disabled children are at an increased risk of being abused compared with their non-disabled peers. They are also less likely to receive the protection and support they need when they have been abused.

This report identifies key issues about safeguarding disabled children. It looks at why disabled children are particularly vulnerable and considers what we know from research and reviews of service delivery. It examines the policy context and current state of safeguarding services in the UK. Finally it sets out what is needed to improve the protection of disabled children.

Author: David Miller and Jon Brown
Published: 2014

Boy in countryside

What we know about what puts disabled children at risk
Factors that increase risk and lessen protection for disabled children include:

  • attitudes and assumptions – e.g. a reluctance to believe disabled children are abused; minimising the impact of abuse; and attributing indicators of abuse to the child's impairment
  • barriers to the disabled child and their family accessing support services
  • issues related to a child's specific impairment – e.g. dependency on a number of carers for personal or intimate care; impaired capacity to resist/avoid abuse, difficulties in communicating; and an inability to understand what is happening or to seek help
  • limited opportunities for disabled children to seek help from someone else
  • a lack of professional skills, expertise and confidence in identifying child protection concerns and the lack of an effective child protection response.

What we know about disabled children's experiences of abuse
Research suggests that:

  • disabled children are at a greater risk of physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect than non-disabled children
  • disabled children at greatest risk of abuse are those with behaviour/conduct disorders. Other high-risk groups include children with learning difficulties/disabilities, children with speech and language difficulties, children with health-related conditions and deaf children.
  • disabled children in residential care face particular risks
  • bullying is a feature in the lives of many disabled children.

What might help improve the protection of disabled children
Research has identified a number of activities that can help to protect disabled children. These include:

  • personal safety skills activities, including sex and relationships education, that raise disabled children's awareness of abuse and ability to seek help
  • peer support, which can have a beneficial effect on reducing bullying and enabling children to explore issues and make decisions.
  • creative therapies, which can provide children with opportunities to express themselves through indirect and non-verbal means.

How else we can improve protection for disabled children
We need to share and build on existing knowledge and good practice and work together towards ensuring equal protection for disabled children. There is a need:

  • to develop a wider and deeper evidence base to help us better understand the vulnerability of disabled children to abuse and how they can be protected.
  • to raise awareness about the abuse of disabled children and challenge attitudes and assumptions that act as barriers to protection
  • to promote safe and accessible services
  • to raise disabled children's awareness of abuse and ability to seek help including access to personal safety skills training
  • for agencies to build on good practice and measures already in place that help ensure the effective delivery of child protection and criminal justice services for disabled children.
Preface 4
Acknowledgements 5
Messages from NSPCC disabled ambassadors 6
Executive summary 8
Rationale for the focus on disabled children 12
Influencing factors on risk and protection 14
The current state of knowledge 21
The policy context 30
The current state of services 40
The way forward 48
References 52

Looking for something in particular?

Our Information Service can help you find the latest policy, practice and research in child protection.

For more information, call us or email help@nspcc.org.uk.

0808 800 5000

Submit an enquiry

Other research and resources

Safe: personal safety skills for deaf children

A group work programme on DVD-Rom to give deaf children the awareness and language they need to stay safe.
Find out more

Safeguarding deaf and disabled children

A resource for training everyone working with children on how to safeguard deaf and disabled children.
Find out more

Safeguarding deaf and disabled children in sport

DVD resource for trainers to deliver training to sports organisations on safeguarding deaf and disabled children more effectively.
Find out more

CASPAR

Our Current Awareness Service for Practice, Policy And Research delivers free weekly email alerts to keep you up-to-date with all the latest safeguarding and child protection news.

CASPAR is currently being upgraded but you can still sign up by contacting our Information Service.

Sign up to CASPAR

Follow @NSPCCpro

Follow us on Twitter and keep up-to-date with all the latest news in child protection.

Follow @NSPCCpro on Twitter

Information Service

Our free service for people who work with children can help you find the latest policy, practice, research and news on child protection and related subjects.

For more information, call us or email help@nspcc.org.uk.

0808 800 5000

Submit an enquiry

Library catalogue

We hold the UK's largest collection of child protection resources and the only UK database specialising in published material on child protection, child abuse and child neglect.

Search the library

Training and consultancy

We train and support individuals and organisations, teaching them the skills and procedures that help keep children safe.
Find out more about training and consultancy

New in the Library

A free weekly email listing all of the new child protection publications added to our library collection.

New in the Library is currently being upgraded but you can still sign up by contacting our Information Service.

Sign up to New in the Library