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

Teenage boy in countrysideWe 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

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

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