1.5.5 Disabled Children
For additional guidance please see Safeguarding Disabled Children: Practice Guidance, which was published by the DCSF in July 2009.
The above guidance refers to UK evidence which suggests that disabled children are at increased risk of abuse and that the presence of multiple disabilities appears to increase the risk of both abuse and neglect. Advice about vulnerability associated with living away from home in Section 10, Living Away from Home is also relevant.
The disabled child may be especially vulnerable due to:
- 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 adequately with her/him;
- A lack of continuity in care leading to an increased risk that behavioural changes may go unnoticed;
- Carers working with the child in isolation;
- Physical dependency with consequent reduction in ability to be able to resist abuse;
- An increased likelihood that the 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;
- Bullying and intimidation;
- Abuse by peers;
- Fear of complaining in case services withdrawn;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 mentioned in Recognising Abuse and Neglect Procedure 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 programme's or regimes;
- Ill fitting equipment e.g. callipers which may cause injury or pain, inappropriate splinting.
Safeguards for disabled children are essentially the same as for non disabled children and should include enabling them to:
- Make their wishes and feelings known;
- Receive appropriate personal, health and social education, including sex education;
- Raise concerns;
- Have access to more than 1 adult with whom they can communicate.
Providers of services must have:
- An explicit commitment to, understanding of disabled children's safety and a culture of openness;
- Guidelines and training for staff on good practice in intimate care, working with children of the opposite sex, handling difficult behaviour, consent to treatment, anti-bullying strategies, sexuality and sexual behaviour among young people, especially those living away from home.
Employing a Personal Assistant
Advice to Parents / Young Person
Where those with parental responsibility wish to employ a personal assistant to help support a disabled child (or where a 16/17 year old disabled person wishes to employ an assistant), they should be urged to:
- Obtain a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check via Children's Social Care;
- Work with an advocacy service in taking up references and interview processes;
- Avoid employing an under 16 year old as s/he cannot be held legally responsible for harm befalling a child in her/his care;
- Avoid employing anyone about whom they have doubts;
- Consider recruiting someone else if they are unhappy with the person working for them.
Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)
The potential employee should submit her/his application for DBS checks to Children's Social Care. The potential employee should be advised that the results of this check will be shared with the young person / parent.
Whilst the check is carried out, potential users of direct payments should continue to receive services commissioned by the local authority.
Local authorities must be satisfied that a direct payment used for this service will safeguard and promote the welfare of the child (see the Department for Education website). Once the check is received the responsible manager must decide whether the direct payment can be progressed.
If the person is deemed to be unsuitable, the direct payment should be declined, pending a more suitable candidate. The practitioner should discuss the circumstances with the parent or young person (and where relevant their advocate).
If Parent / Young Person Decline to Pursue DBS Checks
If the parent / young person declines to pursue DBS checks, Children's Social Care has grounds for refusing direct payments only if it has good reason to believe a potential employee is unsuitable.
If Children's Social Care declines a direct payment on these grounds, the reasons should be sensitively shared with the young person / parent and clearly recorded.
If the young person and/or parent decline to pursue a DBS check, they must sign a disclaimer form themselves (or through their advocate).
Assessment & Support
Disabled children must receive the same level of protection from harm as other children and the procedures described in procedures on Referral and Assessment Procedure, Section 47 Enquiries Procedure, Child Protection Conferences Procedure, and Planning and Implementation Procedure apply equally to them.
Where a disabled child has communication impairments or learning disabilities, special attention should be paid to communication needs (see Interpreters, Signers and Others With Special Communication Skills Procedure). 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, when this is in her/his interests and the interests of justice.
Agencies must consider how best to enable a disabled child to give credible evidence and to withstand the rigours of the court process.