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No sign of harm: issues for disabled children communicating about abuse

Oosterhoorn, Rebecca and Kendrick, Andrew (2001) No sign of harm: issues for disabled children communicating about abuse. Child Abuse Review, 10 (4). pp. 243-253. ISSN 0952-9136

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Abstract

While all children may be the victims of abuse, disabled children are particularly vulnerable. This paper explores the views of professionals working with children using alternative/augmented communication systems on the issues relating to communication about abuse. Interviews were carried out with 20 staff from eight establishments for disabled children across Scotland. It describes the range of alternative/augmented communication systems used and the barriers to communication about abuse. Staff generally accepted the importance of providing the appropriate vocabulary in augmented communication systems, but systems that provide such vocabulary were not widely used. Staff considered that a major difficulty concerned the level of understanding disabled children might have about concepts of abuse. They were unsure how the appropriate vocabulary could be introduced in a natural way and how links could be made between the signs and their meanings. Staff saw themselves as those most able to protect the children, but it was felt that discovery of abuse was more likely to come from them noticing physical signs, behaviour or mood changes than from the child communicating explicitly about abuse. The need for appropriate training and increased coordination between social work, health and education is highlighted.