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

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

Please cite main report as: Miller, D. and Brown, J. (2014) 'We have the right to be safe': protecting disabled children from abuse. [London]: NSPCC.

Got a question?

Our Knowledge and Information Service answer over a thousand enquiries every year helping professionals find the information and resources they need to keep children safe.

Send us your enquiry

Related resources

Safeguarding disabled children in England

Survey establishing the effectiveness of local arrangements to safeguard disabled children and how well LSCBs have responded to recommendations in the Ofsted (2012) thematic inspection on protecting disabled children.
Find out more

Deaf and disabled children talking about child protection

Research report into children's experiences of the child protection system.
Find out more

Telling about abuse

A story in pictures providing advice for deaf adults to help them find out what what to do when they have child protection concerns about a child.
Find out more

Telling about bullying

A story in pictures providing advice for deaf adults to help them find out what they can do when a child is being bullied.
Find out more

NSPCC helpline

Through the NSPCC helpline, we offer help, advice and support to thousands of parents, professionals and families.
Read about our helplines

Safeguarding deaf and disabled children

How organisations can protect deaf and disabled children from abuse and neglect.
Find out more

Child abuse and neglect

Find out what child abuse is, how to spot the signs, who is affected and what you should do if you're worried about a child
More on abuse and neglect

Keeping children safe

Find out how you can keep children safe from abuse and other dangers, both online and in the physical world.
Advice on children's safety for parents and professionals


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.

Sign up to CASPAR

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

How safe are our children? Growing up online

Our annual flagship conference is for everyone working in child protection.

Find out more

Follow @NSPCCpro

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

Follow @NSPCCpro on Twitter

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

New in the Library

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

Sign up to New in the Library

Helping you keep children safe

Read our guide for professionals on what we do and the ways we can work with you to protect children and prevent abuse and neglect.

Read our guide (PDF)

Impact and evidence

Find out how we evaluate and research the impact we’re making in protecting children, get tips and tools for researchers and access resources.

Our impact and evidence

Training and consultancy

Grow your child protection knowledge and skills with CPD certified courses delivered by our experts nationwide and online.
Get expert training

Sharing knowledge to keep children safe

Read our guide to the NSPCC Knowledge and Information Service to find out how we can help you with child protection queries, support your research, and help you learn and develop.

Read our guide (PDF)