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A study of disabled children and child protection in Scotland - a hidden group?

Stalker, Kirsten and Taylor, Julie and Fry, Debi and Stewart, Alastair B.R. (2015) A study of disabled children and child protection in Scotland - a hidden group? Children and Youth Services Review, 56. pp. 126-134. ISSN 0190-7409

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Abstract

This paper is based on analysis of data collected for a study, commissioned by the Scottish Government, which examined child protection work with disabled children. At a conceptual level, the paper draws on Goffman's frame analysis and on different models of disability. Focus groups were conducted with five Child Protection Committees (40 individuals) and semi-structured interviews with a further 21 practitioners from social work, education, health services, third sector organisations and the police. The findings show that, for various reasons, abuse of disabled children may go undetected. Where it is suspected, effective action does not always follow, for example, where practitioners over-empathise with parents. When child protection work is undertaken, disabled children may remain relatively invisible in terms of participation and professional focus. It is suggested that the ways in which practitioners and managers ‘frame’ disabled children has implications for how abuse is responded to and how well these children are protected. Participants also 'framed' disability in different ways, and it is suggested that a social relational model seems particularly applicable. In conclusion, in many respects disabled children experiencing abuse may remain absent from or to some extent hidden within child protection services in Scotland. While some creative work is taking place, considerable changes are required to make child protection services accessible to all disabled children, sensitive to their needs and respectful of their rights.