National guidance for child protection in Scotland: protecting disabled children from abuse and neglect

Notes for all practitioners including those working in: children and family social work; health; education; residential care; early years; youth services; youth justice; police; independent and third sector; and adult services who might be supporting parents with disabled children or involved in the transition between child and adult services.

1. Introduction

These additional practice notes have been designed to be read in conjunction with local single and inter-agency child protection procedures and the National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland which was refreshed in 2014, particularly Part 4, "Child Protection in Specific Circumstances". Other relevant legislation, guidance and policy specifically relating to disabled children can be found at Appendix 1.

Child protection must be seen in the context of the wider Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC) approach, the Early Years Framework (2009), Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2007. All children and young people have the right; to be cared for; to be protected from harm and abuse; and to grow up in a safe environment in which their rights are respected and their needs met. Children and young people should get the help they need when they need it; and their safety and wellbeing is always paramount.

Disabled children and young people are children/young people first and foremost and their wellbeing and protection should be considered in relation to the individual child's circumstances.

Whilst disabled children are likely to suffer much the same abuse as other children, research suggests that disabled children are 3 to 4 times more likely to be abused than non-disabled children (Sullivan & Knutson, 2000). Research has also shown that children with communication impairments, behavioural disorders, learning disabilities and sensory impairments are particularly vulnerable (Stalker et al, 2010),(Spencer et al 2005). The most common forms of abuse experienced by disabled children are neglect and emotional abuse, although they may experience multiple abuses. Disclosing abuse can be more difficult for children who have a wide range of communication styles, and this can be more problematic if a perpetrator is also in a trusted role (Hershkowitz et al, 2007).

Ensuring disabled children's wellbeing is everybody's responsibility and an awareness of what constitutes best practice is essential. It is critical that all practitioners are aware of the potential vulnerability of disabled children and of what constitutes best practice in protecting them from the risk of abuse and neglect.

This document will provide a summary to support the identification of abuse and harm and practice considerations to support the protection of disabled children.


Email: Sandra Aitken

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