Safeguarding Children with a Disability

Disabled children are recognised as the most vulnerable group in respect of safeguarding their wellbeing. They may have physical, sensory and learning disabilities and difficulties.

Various definitions of disability are used across agencies and professionals. Whatever definition of 'disabled' is used, the key issue is not what the definition is but the impact of abuse or neglect on a child's health and development, and consideration of how best to safeguard and promote the child's welfare.

Severely disabled children often rely on parents and carers to meet most or all of their needs. They may have limited mobility and may find it hard to make their feelings and wishes known because of communication or language difficulties. Children with complex needs may receive services in a range of settings from a number of care providers leaving them vulnerable to ill or cruel treatment, to neglect and abuse. If they have been harmed or ill-treated they may find it difficult to know how they can express their own concerns about their welfare and they may not even know that the care they are receiving is not safe or appropriate. Disabled children trust their care-givers and rely on them to be sensitive to their personal care needs, their health, their emotional well-being and their safety.

Disabled children are at significantly greater risk of physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect than non-disabled.

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.

Evidence on risk and severity of impairment is mixed. Most research suggests that disabled boys are at greater risk of abuse than disabled girls when compared to non disabled children.

Why are Disabled Children at increased risk?

Disabled children are more vulnerable to abuse as:

  • Many disabled children are at an increased likelihood of being socially isolated with fewer outside contacts than non-disabled children;
  • Their dependency on parents and carers for practical assistance in daily living including intimate personal care increases their risk of exposure to abusive behaviour;
  • They have an impaired capacity to resist or avoid abuse;
  • They may have speech, language and communication needs which may make it difficult to tell others what is happening;
  • They often do not have access to someone they can trust to disclose that they have been abused;
  • They are especially vulnerable to bullying and intimidation;
  • Looked after disabled children are not only vulnerable to the same factors that exist for all children living away from home but are particularly susceptible to possible abuse because of their additional dependency on residential and hospital staff for day to day physical needs.

What you need to know

  • Disabled children are more likely to be abused by someone in their family compared to non-disabled children.
  • The majority of disabled children are abused by someone who is known to them.
  • Bullying is a feature in the lives of many disabled children. (Marchant et al. 2007; Reid and Batten 2006; Mencap 2007).
  • Disabled children are more likely to experience the negative aspects of social networking sites than non-disabled children (research conducted by the NSPCC in 2013 on the experiences of 11–16-year-olds on social networking sites).
  • Disabled children (and severely disabled children even more so) may disclose less frequently and delay disclosure more often compared to typically developing children.
  • Disabled children are most likely to turn to a trusted adult they know well for help such as family, friend or teacher

What to do if you’re worried about a child

Where there are safeguarding concerns about a disabled child, there is a need for greater awareness of the possible indicators of abuse and/or neglect as the situation is often more complex. It is crucial that the disability is not allowed to mask or deter the need for an appropriate investigation of child protection concerns.

If you are a professional concerned about a child you should refer to the Responding To Need Guidance.

Where appropriate your concerns to CarelineHub using a Multi-Agency Referral Form MARF.

If you have concerns a child is already suffering significant harm or is at risk of significant harm you should contact CarelineHUB on 0151 233 3700 (this must be followed up in writing using the MARF within one working day).

You should always discuss your concerns with the senior person in your organisation who is responsible for safeguarding and child protection.

If you are worried about the immediate safety of children and young people, please report it to the Police on 999


Safeguarding Children with Disabilities - Practice Guidance

Deaf Children Talking about Child Protection

We have the right to be safe - Protecting Disbled Children from abuse NSPCC




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