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Safeguarding Disabled Children


Disabled children are recognised as the most vulnerable group in respect of safeguarding their wellbeing. They may have physical, sensory and learning disabilities and difficulties.

Various definitions of disability are used across agencies and professionals. Whatever definition of 'disabled' is used, the key issue is not what the definition is but the impact of abuse or neglect on a child's health and development, and consideration of how best to safeguard and promote the child's welfare.

Why are disabled children more vulnerable?

Disabled children are particularly vulnerable to abuse as they:

  • have difficulties in communicating or telling someone about the harm;
  • receive intimate personal care possibly from a number of carers which may increase their exposure to abusive behaviour and make it more difficult to set and maintain physical boundaries;
  • don't have the cognitive ability to know that something is wrong;
  • are inhibited about complaining due to fear of losing services; 
  • have a need to be liked or accepted which increases susceptibility to incidents of Mate Crime and Hate Crime.

Adults, including professionals assessing their needs and caring for them, may concentrate on the child’s special needs and overlook signs and symptoms which may suggest that the child is being maltreated.  

Disabled children are at significantly greater risk of physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect than non-disabled.

Disabled children at greatest risk of abuse are those with behaviour/conduct disorders.

Other high-risk groups include:

  • children with learning difficulties/disabilities,
  • children with speech and language difficulties,
  • children with health-related conditions and deaf children.

Often, signs indicating maltreatment may be attributed to the disability.

Practitioners should be aware that changes in behaviour could indicate abuse, especially in non-verbal disabled children.


A professional who has a concern for a disabled child must consider:

  • The child’s communication needs and how she/he will communicate effectively with the child;
  • What information in relation to the child’s disability and special needs the professional requires in order to assess risk of abuse;
  • What resources the professional requires in order to undertake an informed assessment;
  • Any specialist advice the professional needs.Where child protection issues are considered in regard to a child with disabilities, there must be involvement by key professionals who know the child well, including those who have a comprehensive understanding of the child’s disability, method of communication, and any associated medical condition.

Where there is a concern for a disabled child who is already subject to a care plan, for example in receipt of short break care, those professionals assessing the concern and those who are responsible for coordinating and delivering the plan must work closely together to ensure that the child’s needs are met in a holistic way.

Local Information for Practitioners 

The YorOK Disabilities and additional needs webpage contains core information and resources to support Practitioners working with disabled children and children with additional needs. 

YorOK logo     
   YorOK Disabilities and additional needs webpage    
 SEN Local Guidance and Policy    
      SEN Local Guidance and Policy    


Resources for disabled children and their families


York's SEND Local Offer     York's Local Offer provides families, professionals, children and young people with Special Educational Needs, information regarding education, post 16 options health services, SEN guidance, parent and carer support, ideas for activities and events in York, money advice and information on Education, Health and Care Plans.


 The Safety Net Easy Read booklet   The Safety Net Easy Read booklet is for people with a learning disability, families and supporters. It is a booklet for people to share and go through together and talk about. This booklet talks about a type of Disability Hate Crime called ‘Mate Crime’ – which means that sometimes friends are fakes. This booklet tells you what to look out for and what to do if a ‘Mate Crime’ happens to you or someone you know. All Disability Hate Crime is wrong and we want to stop it



CYSCP provides online and face to face Safeguarding Disabled Children training for practitioners.

Useful Links

Safeguarding Disabled Children - Practice Guidance Departmental advice setting out how agencies and professionals should work together to safeguard the welfare of disabled children.

Council for Disabled Children - the umbrella body for the disabled children's sector bringing together professionals, practitioners and policy-makers.

The SEND Gateway, an online portal offering education professionals free, easy access to high quality information, resources and training for meeting the needs of children with special educational needs and disabilities.

Childnet Internationals Practical advice and teaching activities to help educators explore online safety with young people with autism spectrum disorders in Key Stage 3 and 4.

The Safety Net is a project to prevent the exploitation of people with learning disabilities by those claiming to be their friends, and aimed to deal with issues around mate crime.

NSPCC Guidance on protecting d/Deaf and disabled children and young people from abuse

NSPCC Guidance on safeguarding children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)