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8.17 Disabled Children

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For additional guidance, please see Safeguarding Disabled Children: Practice Guidance(issued by the DCSF in July 2009).


For Information on Reducing the Need for Restraint and Restrictive Intervention




The Children Act 1989 states that 'a child is disabled if he is blind, deaf or dumb or suffers from mental disorder of any kind or is substantially and permanently handicapped by illness, injury or congenital deformity or such other disability as may be prescribed'.


The Equality Act 2010 says that someone is disabled if they

  • have a physical or mental impairment;
  • the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to perform normal day-to-day activities.

Any child with a disability is by definition a 'Child in Need' under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989.



A disabled child, if abused, suffers the same consequences as any other. There are many reasons why disabled children may be more vulnerable to abuse and require additional vigilance.


Research indicates that the incidence of Emotional Abuse, Neglect and Sexual Abuse is much higher for disabled children. The level of risk may be raised by:

  • A need for practical assistance in daily living, including intimate care from what may be a number of carers;
  • Carers and staff lacking the ability to communicate effectively with a child;
  • A lack of continuity in care leading to an increased risk that behavioural changes may go unnoticed. Changes in behaviour can also be inappropriately attributed to a child's disability rather than an indicator of abuse;
  • Carers may work with the disabled child in isolation;
  • Physical dependency with consequent reduction in ability to be able to stop abuse;
  • An increased likelihood that a child is socially isolated;
  • Lack of access to 'keep safe' strategies available to others;
  • Communication or learning difficulties preventing disclosure;
  • Parents'/carers' own needs and ways of coping may conflict with the needs of the child;
  • Parents/carers' needs dominating professional intervention leading to the needs of a disabled child becoming overlooked;
  • Fear of complaining in case services are withdrawn;
  • Some sex offenders may target disabled children in the belief that they are less likely to be detected.

In addition to the universal indicators of abuse / neglect listed in Recognition of Abuse and Neglect, the following abusive behaviours must be considered:

  • Force feeding;
  • Unjustified or excessive physical restraint;
  • Rough handling;
  • Extreme behaviour modification including the deprivation liquid, medication, food or clothing;
  • Misuse of medication, sedation, heavy tranquillisation;
  • Invasive procedures against the child's will;
  • Deliberate failure to follow medically recommended regimes;
  • Misapplication of programmes or regimes;
  • Ill fitting equipment e.g. callipers, sleep board which may cause injury or pain, inappropriate splinting;
  • Removing communication aids.



The procedures in Section 4 of this manual, Response to Child Protection Referrals apply equally to disabled children, as well as the guidance contained in Information Sharing and Confidentiality.


As part of the response, the Local Authority has a duty to meet the needs of parents and carers of disabled children (under the Carers and Disabled Children Act 2000) and this should be included as part of an assessment of the child.


Where a child is unable to tell someone of her/his abuse, (s)he may convey anxiety or distress in some other way, e.g. behaviour or symptoms and carers and staff must be alert to this.


Each child should be assessed carefully and supported where relevant to participate in the child protection and criminal justice system. It should never be assumed that a disabled child cannot communicate and appropriate communication methods and professionals with the appropriate skills must always be considered.


Agencies must consider how best to enable a disabled child to give credible evidence and to withstand the rigours of the court process (see also Use of Interpreters, Signers or Others with Communication Skills Procedure).

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This page is correct as printed on Tuesday 24th of November 2020 11:37:59 PM please refer back to this website ( for updates.