There are three ways that child abuse intersects with disability. These include children with disabilities who are maltreated, children who are maltreated and sustain injuries resulting in disability, and parents with disabilities who maltreat their children. Each area requires unique child abuse prevention and intervention strategies.
Children with disabilities are identified as having higher rates of maltreatment than children without disabilities. They are also more likely to be involved in Child Protective Services (CPS) and placed outside of their home. These higher rates of identification may be due to increased vulnerability, increased family stress due to lack of supportive services, added financial responsibilities and attitudinal barriers, and increased detection rates because of these children’s involvement in other service systems. Child abuse prevention for children with disabilities includes respite care and parenting skill training for parents and personal care assistance and personal safety education for children. When children with disabilities are placed out of the home, foster parents and providers must be knowledgeable about caring for children with disabilities.
A child’s disability may also be caused by abuse or neglect. As a result of intentional or unintentional acts of violence or neglect, children may acquire physical, mental/emotional, and/or cognitive conditions. Examples of such resulting conditions include shaken baby syndrome, posttraumatic stress disorder, and failure to thrive syndrome. CPS workers must be aware of the need for post maltreatment assessments geared toward identifying acquired disabilities. Many acquired disabilities may be hidden and are initially undetected, resulting in inadequate care.
More adults with disabilities are having children, yet they have inadequate support to raise their children. When parents with disabilities maltreat their children, it is often in the form of neglect or failure to protect their children from other adults. In some instances parents with disabilities have children who also have disabilities. In these cases the parents need additional support and education about parenting their child to prevent maltreatment. Additionally, CPS workers must seek appropriate assessments of parental functioning and safety before making child removal and permanency decisions. Child abuse prevention in these families includes specialized in-home parenting classes, ongoing supports for parents, parent mentors, and creative placement options such as family foster care and open adoptions.
The intersection between disabilities and CPS needs continued attention via research, collaboration, and cross-training. Although CPS workers need not become disability experts, they do need to become competent in providing services for children with disabilities. They must know when to refer people with disabilities for assessments and services and must be able to collaborate with disability professionals and advocates. In addition CPS workers need to understand their responsibility to provide accessible services. Some CPS systems have formal relationships with disability services, and some even have specialty disability workers within the CPS system.
- Disability & Abuse Project: http://disability-abuse.com/
- Gaylor, V., LaLiberte, T., Lightfoot, E., & Hewitt, A. (Eds.). (2006). Feature issue on children with disabilities in the child welfare system. IMPACT, 19(1).
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