Background Disabled children are at least four times more likely to be abused than their non-disabled peers. This abuse is likely to be of longer duration and be more severe. Despite this heightened risk, the abuse of disabled children often goes undetected and underreported. This qualitative study investigated the specific issues faced by practitioners in Scotland in supporting disabled children at risk of significant harm.
Methods The aim of this study, commissioned by the Scottish Government, was to assess how public services (including social work, health care, education, police and other related services) identify and support disabled children at risk of significant harm, whether neglect or abuse.
This study focused on children and young people with a wide range of impairments, including physical, sensory, cognitive and communication impairments and those with mental distress, all of whom are disabled by external barriers. The study involved four concurrent components: telephone interviews, focus groups with Child Protection Committees (CPCs), practice case studies and the development of systems and response models. Interviews were held with participants from six local authority areas and across five different services. We also held five focus groups with Child Protection Committees (61 participants in total). Inductive analysis following framework design was undertaken.
Results There were positive messages about putting the child at the very heart of child protection assessment and intervention, regardless of any impairment a child may have. However, there was also concern that practice was at times parent-centred. Some participants appeared to be ‘muddling through’ in practice and many practitioners lacked confidence when working with disabled children. Data from this study suggests that thresholds for disabled children may be higher than for non-disabled children. Participants reported high levels of interagency working and saw this as inherently positive, although they recognised some failings and tensions.
Conclusions There is widespread commitment across the child protection system to putting the child at the centre. However, getting it right for every child does not mean treating every child the same.
- disabled children
- communication impairment
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