Jenni Whitehead looks at a document she believes to be essential reading for those working with disabled children, which can be used to audit your school’s safeguarding provision

Safeguarding Disabled Children: A Resource for Local Safeguarding Children Boards was published in February 2006. It was intended as a resource tool for local safeguarding boards facilitating the audit of local service provision in relation to protecting children from abuse and neglect and in planning to ensure disabled children are safeguarded on an equal basis to other children. The more recently published Children’s Plan includes a full section on the needs of disabled children and the expectation that all children are treated on an equal basis.

The resource for safeguarding boards asks whether they are ensuring that disabled children are safeguarded from harm and expects them to examine present protocols, practice and procedures to ensure that they are adequate in respect of this particularly vulnerable group.

The scale of the problem

According to the new cross-departmental Staying Safe Action Plan, about 770,000 children in the UK (7%) are disabled. Many respondents to the consultation that preceded the plan were concerned that, as this group of children and young people are particularly vulnerable, their needs should be reflected more strongly in the Staying Safe strategy.

One charity for disabled children is quoted as giving the following information:

‘Disabled children are:

  • 3.4 times more likely to be abused
  • 3.8 times more likely to be neglected
  • 3.8 times more likely to be physically abused
  • 3.1 times more likely to be sexually abused
  • 3.9 times more likely to be emotionally abused.’

Another charity commented: ‘Whilst we welcome some specific mention of the increased vulnerability of disabled children and young people to abuse, neglect and bullying, we are concerned that the document does not propose any specific targeted action to help keep them safe. [We] welcome the Staying Safe document but [need] to see the government take specific action to ensure that children and young people with learning disabilities are effectively safeguarded from bullying and abuse…’

This last comment suggests that the charity does not believe that present provision for disabled children is adequate and that their safeguarding needs are not being taken account of. The charity quoted, like many others, calls for more direction and action.

We all have a role to play in this and, as a person who offers training on disability and child protection, I am often shocked by participants’ anecdotes of cases where they have felt that a child’s disability affects our ability to safeguard them from abuse.

A useful resource
Safeguarding Disabled Children: A Resource for Local Safeguarding Children Boards, while written for safeguarding boards, is a useful resource for any organisation and particularly schools that have disabled children on roll. It aims to challenge organisations on the provision they have made for disabled children and offers a useful structure to audit existing provisions and highlight any gaps.

  • Section 1 provides important information about the vulnerability of disabled children to abuse. This section would provide useful reading for all staff members who work with disabled children and, for schools who provide specifically for such children, it would prove a useful addition to the induction process for new staff.
  • Section 2 sets out guidelines to help local safeguarding children boards (LSCBs) address the needs and circumstances of disabled children in their monitoring and coordinating activities. It has been recognised that in many areas there aren’t systems in place to record the fact that a child is disabled and this makes it difficult to recognise the level of need in respect of safeguarding and the specialist knowledge needed to ensure services are able to respond effectively. The section discusses the different methods by which an LSCB may choose to focus on disabled children before going on to list the key features of an effective safeguarding system for disabled children.
  • Section 3 provides guidelines for individual professionals involved in the safeguarding process. The aim is to enable those in contact with disabled children to avoid the common pitfalls which often lead to a failure to properly safeguard the welfare of this group of children. Again this section provides useful reading for staff development and could be used as a topic of discussion in staff meetings.
  • Section 4 looks at communicating with disabled children in a monitoring and coordinating role. It also provides information about available resources. Again, it is likely to be of use to schools and education departments in their inclusion planning.
  • Section 5 offers detailed information about the kind of training that is required in order to effectively safeguard and promote the welfare of disabled children. It should enable those responsible for commissioning training to determine what type of training is required, and how to find and evaluate trainers.
  • Section 6 summarises what we know about the disabled child population, including a discussion of what is meant by the term ‘disabled child’ and the needs and circumstances of disabled children.
  • Section 7 provides a summary of legislation and guidance relevant to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of disabled children.

This publication is very well written and easy to read. It seems to have taken an awful long time for the government to produce a document so specific to disabled children and I would encourage anyone who works with disabled children to download it, read it, share it with colleagues, use it and if your safeguarding board hasn’t already started the auditing process ask why! Let’s not let such a useful tool stay gathering dust on someone’s desk.

Safeguarding Disabled Children: A Resource for Local Safeguarding Children Boards

Resources to help professionals develop communication skills for working with disabled children

These are some of the resources listed in section 4.2 of Safeguarding Disabled Children: A Resource for Local Safeguarding Boards.

All Join In

A video/DVD about communication, inclusion and emotional literacy. It is available from; Triangle, Unit E1, The Knoll Business Centre Hove BN3 7GS. Tel 01273 413141.

Talking Mats An interactive resource that uses three sets of picture symbols: topics; options relating specifically to each topic; and a visual scale in order to allow participants to indicate their general feelings about each topic and option. AAC Research Unit, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA. Tel: 01786 467645

I’ll Go First

A planning and review toolkit for use with children with disabilities. The Children’s Society, Edward Rudolf House, Margery Street, London WC1X 0JL.

In My Shoes

A computer package that helps children and learning disabled adults communicate about potentially distressing experiences. Further information: write to Child and Family Training Services, PO Box 4205, London W1A 6YD or tel 01904 634417.

How It Is

This is an image vocabulary for children about feelings, rights and safety, personal care and sexuality.

Talking Point
A website for parents and professionals who help children with speech, language and communication difficulties.