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Why children with disability are more vulnerable to abuse and neglect

It is important that we understand what can make children with disability more vulnerable to abuse and neglect so we can take steps to help protect our children and prevent abuse from happening.

Lack of awareness

  • Some methods of managing behaviour might be seen by some people as acceptable when they are actually abusive.
  • Negative community attitudes about disability can mean abuse or neglect is not recognised or not believed.

Family resilience and stress levels

  • There might be additional emotional, physical and financial demands on families raising a child with disability.
  • Children with disability and their families might be more socially isolated, reducing their support networks.
  • Difficulties in accessing adequate resources and support for a child with disability can affect family stress levels.

Vulnerability linked to a child’s disability

  • Children with disability might lack a good understanding of social relationships, personal boundaries, protective behaviours, sexual awareness, and what abuse is.
  • Children with a physical disability might be more vulnerable to neglect or to rough and intrusive personal care. They may also be physically unable to resist or avoid abuse.
  • If communication is difficult, children with disability find it hard to let someone know that abuse is occurring.
  • Children with behavioural issues are more likely to be dealt with in a forceful or restrictive way, and indicators of abuse might be wrongly attributed to the behavioural issue.
  • Children with disability might be more dependent on others to have their needs met and care may be provided by someone other than a parent or primary carer.
  • Greater structure and protection of children with disability can teach them to be more compliant with adult demands.
  • Children might accept abusive treatment if they have low understanding, self-esteem or a low perception of their abilities.
  • Children with disability and their families can be more socially isolated


Parenting SA

Phone: 08 8303 1660
Email: health.parentingsa [at] sa.gov.au
Fax: 08 8303 1653