Children with Disabilities - Safeguarding our most Vulnerable

Did you know that children and young people who live with disabilities are more likely to experience violence and abuse than non-disabled children[1]?

One in every 20 children has a moderate to severe disability[2]. Studies have shown that disabled children are 3.8 times more likely to be neglected or physically abused, 3.1 times more likely to be sexually abused and 3.9 times more likely to be emotionally abused. In fact, findings show that 31% of disabled children suffer abuse compared with 9% of the non-disabled child population. Further to this, disabled children are also at a higher risk of experiencing multiple abuses and of enduring multiple episodes of abuse[3].

Children With Disabilities Are At A Higher Risk Of Abuse

In order to get help when they the fear or experience abuse, disabled children have significant additional barriers to overcome in comparison non-disabled children. These include:

  • Some disabled children may not recognise the abuse
  • Disabled children might not be able to ask for help
  • The child may rely on their abuser to meet their needs – making it even more difficult to speak out
  • Parents and professionals may miss signs of abuse/neglect, mistaking them as part of a child’s condition
  • Professionals working with disabled children may not be trained to spot the signs of abuse and neglect
  • Children with disabilities and their families may feel isolated or without support due to a limited number of accessible services, meaning they may not know where to find help
  • Abusers may try to excuse their behaviour, blaming it on the difficulties of caring for a disabled child
  • Professionals who work to support parents’ ability to meet their child’s additional needs may overlook parental behaviours that are not adequate
  • Child protection professionals might not have the specialised skills to properly communicate with the child, or to accurately assess or understand a disabled child’s needs[4]

What Can Be Done?

Clearly more needs to be done to protect these vulnerable young people and children from harm. Specific safeguarding and welfare requirements need to be included in relevant safeguarding legislation, policy and plans to protect all children, including those with disabilities.

Not only do professionals need to be better supported with training tailored specifically to recognising abuse in disabled children, but disabled children also need to be better informed with resources that are tailored to their needs and circumstances.

Education Is Key

Currently, many schools in the UK are denying sex education to young disabled people, the very people who (arguably) need it most as a result of being more likely to fall victim to abuse of this nature[5]. Disabled children need to have the same RSE education as non-disabled children. This information needs to be made available to them in a way that they can easily understand and digest.

A great example of this is the NSPCC PANTs campaign which allows parents to easily start conversations with their children without having to use scary or uncomfortable language. This has been translated into British Sign-Language and given subtitles to make it accessible to children in the Deaf community. This teaches Deaf children about the Underwear Rule and encourages them to share ‘secrets’ that upset them with an adult they trust. You can find the British Sign Language version of the video here.

Young DeafHope are also working on a project with young Deaf people from the age of 11 upwards. Here they hope to raise awareness of abuse and domestic violence. Young DeafHope aim to support these people in recognising, changing and avoiding abusive behaviours, so that they can go on to enjoy healthy relationships and stay safe. You can find more out about this project here.

Compulsory Relationship And Sex Education In Schools

In 2017 the DfE announced that Relationships and Sex Education will be made compulsory under a new curriculum for all schools in England, meaning that children as young as 4 years of age will be taught about safe and healthy relationships[6]. Teachers and campaigners are hoping that this new framework will include compulsory guidance tailored for those who work with children with learning disabilities in both special and mainstream schools.

Best Practice From Oak Field School And Sports College

Oak Field School and Sports College was recently praised by the Guardian for the way in which they embrace Relationships and Sex Education for their pupils who suffer with severe and complex disabilities.

“We have a lot of children with profound and multiple disabilities, and so a lot of people will think, ‘oh, we don’t need to worry about them’. But they’re sexual beings, too. They can be exploited, they grow, and though intellectually they may be working at a very young age, their bodies are not.”[7] You can read the full article here.

Where To Find More Information:

Many families are unfortunately affected by injuries during the birth of their child/children. Depending on the nature of the injury and its severity, this can cause different long term effects for the child. Two examples are cerebral palsy and Erb's palsy. The Birth Injury Center is a free resource to help families by providing informational resources, which are constantly updated and added to.

Other places to find more information include: 


Written by Sam Franklin


[1] Jones, L. et al (2012) Prevalence and risk of violence against children with disabilities: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies.


[3] Sullivan, P. M., & Knutson, J. F. (2000). Maltreatment and Disabilities: A Population-Based Epidemiological Study. Child Abuse & Neglect, 24, 1257-1273.

[4] NSPCC (2014) ‘We have the right to be safe’: Protecting disabled children from abuse




Posted Date

20th August 2019

Sam Franklin

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