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Protection and prevention of abuse of children and young people with disability in residential care

The report from the Royal Commission into South Australia’s child protection systems highlights the increased vulnerability of children with disability to harm and neglect, and the risk of inadequate care.  The Government’s response to the report highlights the importance of a child-centred focus and includes analysis and response to each of the report’s recommendations, including commitments towards the safety and wellbeing of children and young people with disability.

In 2017 the Ministerial Advisory Committee: Children and Students with Disability undertook a project to provide advice to the Minister for Education and Child Development on the protection and prevention of abuse of children and young people with disability in residential producing the paper: Protection and prevention of abuse of children and young people with disability in residential care.

Children and young people with disability living in residential care

There is a high incidence of children and young people with disability who live in residential care and attend government schools.  

Residential care refers to care provided to children and young people who are living away from their families in residential buildings or care facilities, which are staffed by Department for Child Protection employees or carers from non-government organisations (NGOs).

Vulnerability and feeling safe 

Children and young people living with disability are more vulnerable to experiencing abuse than their peers without disability.  Factors contributing to their increased vulnerability may include:

  • Spending time in settings where they may be expected to comply with the directions of carers
  • Communication, speech and language issues, and high behavioural support needs
  • Physical limitations and an unclear understanding of sexuality
  • Greater reliance on persons outside the family providing day-to-day support
  • Difficulty in identifying abuse, particularly when support needs require personal care of an intimate nature.

Strategies for the prevention of abuse and neglect

The National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN) and the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) promote interventions to reduce the incidence of child abuse and neglect. 
These can include interventions addressing factors underlying the incidence of abuse, such as economic indicators of unemployment, housing and availability of education and child care.

The Ministerial Advisory Committee: Children and Students with Disability suggests that including disability in the list of economic indicators as potential risk factors, and using intervention initiatives directed specifically towards families with children experiencing disability, will contribute to minimising the incidence of abuse and neglect of children and young people with disability

Child-safe organisations

Current research about keeping children and young people with disability safe from neglect and abuse counters the notion of them as passive recipients of care.

Instead it supports educating workers in institutional settings about the complexities of caring for children and young people with disability, to ensure that their rights are respected, and to empower them to exercise self-protection. 

At the same time, ensuring workers are equipped with disability expertise and are educated on

  • The increased vulnerability of children with disability to abuse and neglect
  • Indicators of signs of abuse and trauma
  • Appropriate interventions to protect children who have likely experienced harm

to help to ensure that services made available to children are matched with their specific needs.
 

Contact

Ministerial Advisory Committee: Children and Students with Disability

Phone: (08) 8226 3632
Email: educationminadv [at] sa.gov.au