Disabled children

The additional vulnerability of disabled children means they are more likely to suffer abuse and neglect, yet they are under represented in the safeguarding system.  One large scale study found that disabled children were 3.4 times more likely to be abused or neglected than non-disabled children. Disabled children were 3.8 times more likely to be neglected, 3.8 times more likely to be physically abused, 3.1 times more likely to be sexually abused and 3.9 times more likely to be emotionally abused. The study concluded that 31% of disabled children had been abused, compared to a prevalence rate of 9% among the non disabled child population (Sullivan P.M. and Knutson J.F. 2000, Maltreatment and Disabilities: A Population based Epidemiological Study, Child Abuse and Neglect 24).

Some of the reasons why disabled children are more vulnerable to abuse and neglect are:

  • Social isolation with fewer outside contacts than other children
  • A need for  practical assistance in daily living, including intimate care
  • Physical dependence with consequent reduction in ability to be able to resist or avoid abuse
  • Communication or learning difficulties preventing disclosure or making disclosure more difficult
  • Carers and staff lacking the ability to communicate adequately
  • A lack of continuity of care so behavioural changes may go unnoticed
  • Lack of access to ‘keep safe’ strategies available to others
  • Parents / carers own needs and ways of coping may conflict with the needs of the child
  • The child / carers inhibited about complaining for fear of losing services
  • The child being especially vulnerable to bullying, intimidation or abuse
  • Some sex offenders may target disabled children in the belief that they are less likely to be detected
  • Over-identification with the needs of parents / carers that can lead to a professional reluctance to make judgements about concerning aspects of parenting

Some of the myths that deny disabled children are at risk:

  • Disabled children are not vulnerable to sexual abuse – they would not be targeted
  • Disabled children are not abused because people feel sorry for them
  • Disabled children will not benefit from therapy or treatment after being abused
  • Sexual abuse of disabled children is not as harmful as sexual abuse of non disabled children

If you have any concerns about a disabled child ring Children’s Services Contact Team on 020 7527-7400 or the Disabled Children’s Team on 0207 527 3366.