Understanding Why Children with Disability Might be Greater Risk

To reduce children being placed at risk we need to understand that children with disabilities are at higher risk than their peers of being unsafe. This is difficult to hear.

There are a number of reasons why children with disability experience increased vulnerability.

These include:

  • Some beliefs and myths held about sexuality and disability construct the sexuality of people with disability in negative ways. This includes the myth that people with disability do not have the same need for intimacy as their able bodied peers.
  • Some providers may hold beliefs and myths regarding the child or young person’s right to safety, privacy and opportunities for positive social interactions.
  • Some children and young people with disability may not understand social relationships, personal boundaries, protective behaviours, sexual awareness or an understanding of what abuse and inappropriate touching is.
  • Children and young people with disability may not have learned about human development or received adequate sexual education.
  • Some children and young people with disability may have difficulty communicating that they feel unsafe, or that abuse is occurring.
  • Children and young people with disability may have behavioural issues that are sometimes dealt with in a more ‘physical’ manner by carers and providers
  • Children and young people with disabilities may be more likely to be dependent on others to have their needs met. This means they may receive care from a number of carers or providers, and thus they have increased personal contact with others.
  • Due to their disability, children and young people may have a reduced physical ability to resist or avoid mistreatment and abuse.
  • Children and young people with disability may accept being bullied or mistreated if they have low self-esteem or a low perception of their abilities, or they haven’t experienced others standing up for them.
  • Children and young people with disability are less likely to tell adults, including their parents, when they don’t feel safe.
  • When children and young people with disability feel unsafe, their behaviour may change, but others may not read these changes as a sign something is wrong. Sometimes even people in regular contact with the child may not pick up that the child has suffered ill treatment, neglect or abuse.

How you can support your child

Children communicate in many ways. They may demonstrate that something is not right through changes in their behaviour, or in their bodies. These changes may indicate the child is worried or having problems.

It is important is to recognise that this is their language. It is their means of letting us know that something is wrong – and we need to find out what it is.

Some of the following ‘early warning’ signs are indicators that children are not feeling safe, and may be being maltreated in some way:

  • Physical injuries, like bruises, broken bones, sprains or cuts that have unlikely or no explanations
  • Other physical symptoms including headaches, backaches, sleep disturbances, loss of control of bladder or bowel functions or unexplained weight loss. It may also include the feeling of butterflies in their tummy, or feeling sick,
  • A loss of interest in the activities they once enjoyed,
  • Changes in their emotional state – being more dependant, losing confidence.
  • Dramatically changed behaviour, including depression, anxiety, phobias, self-injury or neglect
  • Unusual sexualised behaviours, including compulsive masturbation or trying to involve others in sexual acts