Are children with disabilities that reside in institutions at risk for being victims of child abuse?

There are societal factors that increase the risk for a child with disabilities to be a victim of child abuse. Whether the disabled child resides in a group home setting, or a long term care facility, environmental and cultural values within these institutional settings are influenced by the caregivers. Not all caregivers are ethical or emotionally well adjusted. Therefore, in group residential centers there may be intentional, or non-intentional, abusive activity taking place. Not all caregivers care for residents in an appropriate manner. Children in these settings are not provided the same educational and social experiences as children that live with families. For instance, group home administrators do not provide information about sex and sexual abuse to children with disabilities. And therefore, the disabled child may not identify inappropriate sexual activity or abuse within the residential setting. Disabled children that cannot manage their own behavior may not identify when caregivers exert inappropriate control during child/caregiver interaction. Because group home administrators may not provide information about emotional abuse to the residents, emotional abuse often goes unrecognized because of the lack of information provided. Also, disabled children may not perceive pain the same way non-disabled people do, and therefore do not report inappropriate physical disciplinary activity implemented by caregivers. Research performed in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s on the topic of child abuse within institutions, uncovered a rather large problem of abuse within the long-term institutions were children with disabilities live. In part, these findings were the catalyst behind de-institutionalizing people with disabilities in the 1980s.   

Christopher Keane
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California Child Abuse and Child Injury Lawyer