Investigations where children are affected by disability or additional support needs

There must be an awareness that children and young people with a disability communication difficulty or other conditions such as autism are especially vulnerable to abuse and neglect. There are numerous reasons for this: caring for children with disabilities may place additional demands on carers who may become physically or emotionally abusive as a result; children with disabilities may require more intimate care and thus may be especially vulnerable to sexual abuse.

Perpetrators of sexual abuse may also target children whom they perceive as unable to communicate what is happening to them.

The effective investigation of concerns about possible abuse towards children with disabilities or additional support needs may require a different pace or form of inquiry and/or additional use of resources or personnel. When this takes place it should be acknowledged that it is appropriate in the circumstances and the reasons must be recorded. Investigations should adhere to the basic principles outlined in Section 2.

When it is proposed to interview a child with learning and/or communication difficulties conditions such as autism or ADHD, specialist advice may be required to establish the pace, style and content which is appropriate given the child’s additional support needs. It may not be a social worker who communicates with the child. The area team leader and the team leader for children with disabilities should discuss and decide who should lead and carry out the investigation, the needs of the child being central to the decision.  The team leader leading the investigation should ensure any requisite specialist advice or assistance is obtained – for example a BSL interpreter for deaf children whose main means of communication is sign language.

It is particularly important to be aware of behavioural and other indicators of abuse.

Parents of children with communication difficulties often develop their own means of communication and ‘intuitive understanding’. No person who is implicated in alleged or suspected abuse should be asked to assist in communication with the child as part of the investigative process.

Special attention may need to be given to the issue of consent to interview or medical examination.