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Children with disabilities

african-deaf-kid-girl-and-her-mother-sitting-on-couch-showing-symbols-with-handsDisabled children have exactly the same human rights to be safe from abuse and neglect, to be protected from harm and achieve as non-disabled children. Disabled children do however require additional action. This is because they experience greater and created vulnerability as a result of negative attitudes about disabled children and unequal access to services and resources, and because they may have additional needs relating to physical, sensory, cognitive and/ or communication impairments.
(Safeguarding disabled children practice guidance 2009)

The Equality Act (2010) states that a person has a disability 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” 

For the purposes of the Act, these words have the following meanings:

'Substantial' means more than minor or trivial

'Long-term' means that the effect of the impairment has lasted or is likely to last for at least twelve months (there are special rules covering recurring or fluctuating conditions)

'Normal day-to-day activities' include everyday things like eating, washing, walking and going shopping

The term disabled children can refer to children from a wide range of impairment groups including children who;

  • Have moderate, severe and profound and multiple learning disabilities
  • Have specific learning difficulties
  • Have physical or visual impairments
  • Are deaf
  • Are on the autistic spectrum
  • Have physical or mental health needs
  • Have speech, language and communication needs
  • Have behavioural, emotional and social development needs.

(Miller et al 2014)


Any one child’s experience of their impairment will be unique to them.


Disabled children are 3 times more likely to be abused than non-disabled children 

(Jones et al, 2012)

Why are disabled children more vulnerable to abuse than a non-disabled child of the same age? +

  • Communication barriers
  • Adults mistaking the indicators of abuse for signs of a child’s disability
  • Keep safe strategies not always accessible for disabled children
  • Increased Isolation
  • Vulnerable to bullying and intimidation
  • Dependency on others for care
  • Inadequate support

For further details of the additional vulnerabilities of disabled children access

Warrington Safeguarding Partnership Procedures

NSPCC website

What are additional Indicators of abuse for a child with a disability? +

  • A bruise in a site that might not be of concern on an ambulant child, such as the shin, might be on a non-mobile child
  • Feeding difficulties not managed that leads to malnourishment
  • Over feeding or under feeding
  • Force feeding or feeding too fast
  • Poor toileting arrangements
  • Lack of stimulation
  • Unjustified and or excessive use of restraint
  • Rough handling during personal care
  • Extreme behaviour modification
  • Equipment issued but seems to be unavailable
  • A carer describes a disabled child as not able to communicate any preferences at all
  • Unwillingness to try to learn a child’s means of communication
  • Ill-fitting equipment
  • Treatment offered but not taken up
  • Invasive procedures which are unnecessary or are carried out against the child’s will.
  • Misuse of medication
  • Restricted liberty
  • Misapplication of programmes and regimes
  • Lack of privacy
  • Non agreed methods
  • Sudden unexplained changes in behaviour
  • Forced Marriage
  • Financial abuse
  • Fabricated and or induced illness
  • Children not taken to appointments

Children with Disabilities Pic 1

Nottingham City Safeguarding Children Board produced a really helpful media clip “Rethinking Did Not Attend” to encourage practitioners to identify children as ‘Was Not Brought’ as opposed to ‘Did Not Attend’ when referring to them not being presented at medical appointments.

Taking action to protect a disabled child from abuse +

Where there are concerns about a child or young person with disabilities, report those concerns to children's safeguarding and social work teams on 01925 443322, press one and either say MASH or the name of the person if known

Outside of office hours call us on 01925 444400

If you believe a crime has been committed, contact the police on 101

If you believe the child is at immediate risk of harm, call 999

We all have a responsibility to be alert to possible concerns and act to safeguard others in our families and communities who may be less able to protect themselves.

Professionals +

If you're a teacher, doctor, nurse, youth worker, etc., please complete the multi-agency request for services (MARS) form to refer a child or young person who you think may be vulnerable or at risk.

Multi Agency Request for Services (MARS form)

For further information
Access the WSP Online Procedures 

Further information and resources 

Safeguarding disabled children practice guidance

‘We have the right to be safe’ 
NSPCC, October 2014

Deaf and disabled children: learning from serious case reviews 
NSPCC, January 2016