Any child with a disability is by definition a ‘child in need’ under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 (external link).
The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (external link) makes it unlawful to discriminate against a disabled person in relation to the provision of services. This includes making a service more difficult for a disabled person to access or providing them with a different standard of service.
Signs of Abusive or Neglectful Behaviours in Carers
In addition to the usual indicators of abuse / neglect, the following abusive behaviours must be considered:
- Restraining a child without knowing how to do so safely
- Rough handling
- Using inappropriate kinds of discipline, such as withholding medication or food, restricting movement or removing essential equipment
- Using medication in a way that has not been medically advised, including sedation, heavy tranquillisation
- Deliberate failure to follow medically recommended regimes
- Misapplication of programmes or regimes
- Invasive procedures against the child’s will
- Invasive procedures that are carried out by people without the right skills or against a child’s will
- Using badly fitting or inappropriate equipment (e.g. callipers, sleep board that may cause injury or pain, inappropriate splinting), which may cause pain or injury.
- Force feeding
- Undignified age or culturally inappropriate intimate care practices
Vulnerability of Disabled Children to Abuse
Disabled children are up to three times more vulnerable to significant harm through physical, sexual, emotional abuse and / or neglect than their peers, because of factors relating to the child’s disability - such as their increased need for different carers and the intimate nature of the care that is needed.
Some ways in which vulnerability to abuse is increased:
- Some children with disabilities will find it more difficult to communicate what they are feeling. Professionals are not always good at hearing / understanding what they are trying to say. This can also mean that they are less involved in decision making about their lives.
- Sometimes behaviour can be misinterpreted as being a consequence of a disability when in fact it is a sign of abuse.
- A need for practical assistance in daily living
- Intimate care from multiple carers
- A lack of continuity in care between different carers
- Physical dependency of child for longer periods
- An increased likelihood that the child is socially isolated
- Spending lots of time away from their families, in respite and short break services, residential schools etc.
- Negative social attitudes towards children with disabilities can affect people’s willingness to believe that abuse has taken place.
- Sometimes the fact that a child is treated abusively can go unrecognised; for example, some methods of feeding, restraint, control or discipline may be permitted when in fact they are causing harm.
- Many disabled children from black and minority ethnic groups face double discrimination.
- Higher levels of bullying of disabled children can be classified as assault or abuse. Disabled children can be particularly vulnerable to cyber-bullying.
- Some cultures or faiths are unwilling to accept the disability as a medical problem but see the disability instead as a spiritual problem, curse or possession. This can lead to families to access spiritual care only, refusing to access medical and other recommended care, and in extreme cases may lead to practices such as witchcraft.
Disclosures by Disabled Children
Children with disabilities may struggle to let people know they are being harmed. This can be due to difficulties they may have with communication. Other barriers to protecting disabled children include confusion of abuse indicators with symptoms of their disability.
Consideration should be given to how non-verbal communication is interpreted, and by whom.
Each child should be assessed carefully and supported where relevant to participate in the criminal justice system, particularly in relation to how they can be assisted to communicate, using appropriate communication facilitation techniques.
Haringey Council’s Children and Young People’s Service has a team of social workers who specifically work with children with disabilities who form part of the Children with Additional Needs and Disabilities Service. Referrals to any part of this service are made to the Disabled Children’s Team.
There is a social work team to co-ordinate the transition to adults’ services based at the Learning Disability Partnership. There are named child doctors / nurses who provide advice to staff about safeguarding issues. There is also a Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) who investigates any allegations about professionals and child abuse.
Referrals of Abuse
- Disabled Children’s Team Duty Service:
020 8489 3655 during office hours
- The Children and Young People’s Service First Response Team:
020 8489 5762 / 4592 / 5652/ 4582 during office hours
- Out of Hours Duty Team:
020 8489 0000
Advice on Child Protection
- Child Protection Advisors:
020 8489 1061 / 5462 / 5426
Notification of Allegations against Staff
- Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO):
020 8489 1406 / 1192
- London Safeguarding Children’s Board (LSCB):
020 489 1472
- Learning Disability Partnership:
020 8489 1384