Disabled children and the relation to child abuse

I strongly believe that safeguarding disabled children practice should be no different no matter what the circumstances are.

Children are children and the right to a safe and high quality childhood should be the aim of anyone involved. The Social Model of Disability accepts that people have impairments but it is society that disables people due to lack of provision. We should construct the environment to compensate for these impairments. This applies as much in some aspects of child protection as in architecture, transport etc.

I’ve already mentioned the need for having a well stocked ‘bank’ of people trained and available to aid communication where needed for disabled children. The courts still, in my view, are not totally suitable for children, or adults for that matter, with impairments. The justice system that we rigidly stick to in this country is adversarial whose emphasis is entirely on winning and so even with recent initiatives such as video links, pre-court interviewing and screening of witnesses, cross examination rules as they stand will always favour the conventional. If we imported some of the ideas from our continental neighbours, the justice system that prevails concerning children’s matters is an inquisitorial one where, instead of the emphasis on winning, the emphasis is on finding the truth.

Dick Sobsey highlighted the perceived environment for abuse. He examined the prevalent notion that raising disabled children was so stressful that this was a major reason why some parents were led to abuse. He declared however that this stress dependency hypothesis is not supported by research. His conclusions were that the main reasons that triggered child abuse were inherently the same for disabled as non disabled children. Broadly these are lack of parenting skills, violent and dysfunctional households, socio-economic factors such as: poverty, chronic unemployment or poor housing, mental health problems, relationship stresses, alcohol and substance abuse, and spousal abuse during pregnancy. There also exists the range of predatory, opportunistic and damaged people who want to hurt or exercise abnormal power over children (in fact, the psychopathology of the sad, bad and unstable).

We can’t forget that many children’s impairments stem from abuse. Obvious examples include shaking injuries causing brain and spinal injury and there are also links with learning difficulties brought about by abusive environments.

Why are disabled children more vulnerable and why are the numbers of those abused higher, pro rata, than the general population?

Factors listed by a West Midlands authority recently included social isolation, reduced capacity to resist, unwelcome intrusions, lack of appropriate communication provision, under reporting because of the fear of losing services, targeted children whose impairments suggest there would be less likelihood of detection, significantly higher level of peer bullying. The same authority also listed some abusive behaviours over and above normal indicators. This included: force feeding, excessive physical restraint, rough handling, extreme impromptu behaviour modification including deprivation of medication or food, misuse of medication, deliberate ditching of medically recommended regimes and unnecessary delays in changing or modifying equipment ie callipers, splints or sleep boards. Something else that agencies must look out for is the misappropriation of children’s financial benefits.

There is of course all the dangers that the internet brings — sometimes more acutely to young people with learning difficulties. I wont go into the abusive side of the internet as I’ve included it elsewhere but a few years ago the ISPs were being pressured to correct quite a lot of technical detail that disadvantaged disabled children – for example at that time 93% of sites failed to provide adequate text descriptions for graphics, 78% used colours with poor contrast causing issues for those with colour blindness and significantly high number still offer poor page navigation.

Things are being talked about more which is good, but I understand that a recent NSPCC report still highlighted that disabled children are still victims of abuse in disproportionately high numbers.We can’t turn the light off on this issue.

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