Deaf and disabled children talking about child protection Research into children’s experiences of the child protection system

Young boy looking downOur 2014 report 'We have the right to be safe' - protecting disabled children from abuse highlighted the need for research into the abuse of children with disabilities in the UK.

So we commissioned the University of Edinburgh/NSPCC Child Protection Research Centre to investigate deaf and disabled children's experiences of the child protection system.

This report highlights findings from in-depth interviews with 10 deaf and disabled people who had been abused during childhood. It looks at how they sought help, the barriers they faced and how professionals and organisations recognised and responded to the abuse.

It includes recommendations for policy makers and commissioners, agencies working with deaf and disabled children, and parents and carers.

Authors: Julie Taylor, Audrey Cameron, Christine Jones, Anita Franklin, Kirsten Stalker and Deborah Fry
Published: 2015

Deaf and disabled children who are abused face additional barriers in disclosing abuse and receiving the protection the need. 

  • Signs of distress were often mistakenly assumed to be related to the child’s impairment rather than recognised as an indication of abuse
  • There was a lack of awareness or agreement about what constitutes the abuse of deaf and disabled children. This led to ambiguity in the minds of both children and adults regarding the most appropriate course of action.
  • Deaf and disabled children were often invisible. In some cases services were absent from their lives. In others, provision was inadequate or inappropriate.
  • Particular concerns were raised in relation to the quality of some foster care placements and the lack of professional interpreting services and communication support.
  • Supportive relationships and access to professional interpreters were key enablers of protection for deaf and disabled children. 

Six key issues emerged from the findings:

  • Disclosure is a complex process for deaf and disabled children. Barriers to disclosure must be tackled to ensure that abuse of deaf and disabled children is identified and addressed. Greater clarity and consensus is needed about what constitutes abuse of deaf and disabled children and expectations regarding their fair treatment must be raised.
  • There is a need for adults to work more proactively to identify potential signs of abuse rather than rely on children’s disclosures.
  • There was an absence of formal support services in some participants' childhoods while the provision that was available was often inadequate and/or inappropriate.
  • Social isolation was a dominant feature of their childhoods. Participants described a lack of friends and limited contact within their wider family and community.
  • Much greater understanding is needed of the consequences of child abuse across all aspects of deaf and disabled people’s lives. We need to know more about the self-care and survivorship skills adopted by people and the long-term interventions necessary to respond to child abuse appropriately.
  • The prevention of abuse must be a priority.
Executive summary 1
List of tables 3
List of figures 3
Background to the study 4
Research methods 7
Findings 9
Discussion, conclusion and recommendations 40
References 50
Appendices 54

"If you're deaf, you can't phone up Childline... Where I was staying there was no computers, no text phones, no mobile phones, nothing. I didn't know how to use a phone. I had to get people to phone for me. Even when I first started work people used to use the phone for me, because there was no text phone. I stayed silent until I was twenty-three."

"I was very dependent on my [abusive] mother. I didn't have friends who really understood my deafness who could've supported me. There was no other family near us...

…you know GP, audiology... my mother was always there, I couldn't say or do anything that might make her angry you know."

"It was good to see a policeman who could sign. I felt comfortable straightaway. I felt a candle was being lit and felt warm. I was not frozen with worry. It was calm. When the qualified interpreter came, I felt more comfortable. It meant that I was able to give information with no communication problems. It went smoothly. Correct information was conveyed to the police. The statement I read was correct."

Please cite as: Taylor, J. et al (2015) Deaf and disabled children talking about child protection. London: NSPCC.

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