Protecting disabled children in Scotland - a hidden group?

Stalker, Kirsten and Taylor, Julie and Fry, Deborah and Stewart, Alasdair (2015) Protecting disabled children in Scotland - a hidden group? In: BASPCAN Congress 2015, 2015-04-12 - 2015-04-15, UK. (Unpublished)

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The objective of this paper is to present findings from a study, funded by Scottish Government and published in 2014, of child protection practice with disabled children and young people in Scotland. The main research aim was to examine how public services identify and support disabled children (aged 0-18) at risk of significant harm. The objective of this paper will be to examine how far these young people are present/visible or remain absent/hidden in child protection processes and services. Twenty-one in-depth interviews were conducted with professionals (social work, education, health, police and third sector agencies), in six Scottish local authorities and focus groups with Child Protection Committees in five of them. These will be presented under three themes - 'identifying child protection concerns', 'acting on child protection concerns' and 'the child at the centre?' In relation to identifying concerns, this is likely to be compromised by the variable awareness among managers and practitioners of disabled children's heightened vulnerability to abuse (well established in the literature), some misconceptions about it, a risk of losing sight of the child by focusing on impairment or, conversely, losing sight of the implications of specific impairments by taking an overly 'child first' approach. While some good practice examples emerged, effective action could be compromised by practitioners' over-empathising with parents and the perceived demands they faced, heightened thresholds being applied to disabled children and issues about locus of responsibility, training and resources. The extent to which the disabled child was placed at the centre of practice was contingent on professionals' ability to communicate effectively with them and willingness to seek their views. Disabled children were unlikely to attend child protection case conferences and very few cases proceeded to court. To a large extent, disabled children remain hidden within the child protection system in Scotland and the numbers registered, taken alongside wider research findings about prevalence of abuse internationally, strongly indicate that many more, who should be in receipt of services and support, are absent.