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.

5. Recognising indicators of possible abuse and neglect

Significant harm caused by abuse and neglect may be the result of a specific incident, or more likely, an accumulation of concerns over time. Assessment must include analysis of accurate recordings, comprehensive chronologies and relevant information regarding significant events/concerns in relation to the disabled child and their siblings. This along with the timeous sharing of relevant information can increase the identification of and inquiries into possible abuse and neglect.

The National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland (Scottish Government, 2014) defines different types of abuse and neglect and outlines indicators of abuse and neglect that can affect any child. Disabled children experience the same sort of abuse as other children: neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse (including exploitation) and emotional abuse. Neglect seems particularly prevalent.

In addition to this there are some features of abuse particular to disabled children:

  • Missing medical appointments, misuse of medication, failure to provide treatment or providing inappropriate or unnecessary invasive procedures carried out against the child's will.
  • Using ill-fitting equipment or not allowing adaptations a child might need such as, callipers, safe space, inappropriate splinting or inappropriate physical confinement.
  • Threats of abandonment/exclusion and/or depriving access to visitors.
  • Exclusion: from family events, overuse of 'respite', unnecessary schooling away from home.
  • Not feeding the child enough in order to keep them light for lifting, or over-feeding.
  • A disregard for a child's right to privacy i.e. poor toileting arrangements.
  • Fear of carers.
  • Inappropriate use of physical restraint.
  • Rough handling, extreme behaviour modification.
  • Lack of communication or stimulation; unwillingness to try to learn a child's means of communication or withholding a child's means of communication.
  • Teasing, bullying or blaming because of their impairment.
  • Verbal abuse; achievements ridiculed or ignored.
  • Punitive responses to behaviour.
  • Having too high/low expectations of child.
  • Over protection.
  • Misappropriation of a child's finances.

Some of the above behaviours can constitute criminal offences. Similarly, inappropriate restraint, sanctions, humiliation, intimidation, verbal abuse, and having needs ignored; depending on the circumstances, may also be criminal offences, acts of gross misconduct and reportable to Police Scotland and relevant professional regulatory bodies.

It is crucial when considering whether a disabled child has been/or is at risk of abuse and/or neglect that the disability does not mask or deter appropriate investigation of child protection concerns. Any concerns for the safety and wellbeing of a disabled child should be acted upon timeously as directed by the National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland (Scottish Government, 2014) and local inter-agency guidance. There should be no distinction made in acting on concerns where a child is disabled.


Email: Sandra Aitken

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