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Child Abuse and Children With Disabilities (From Child Abuse and Neglect: Guidelines for Identification, Assessment, and Case Management, P 152-157, 2003, Marilyn Strachan Peterson and Michael Durfee, eds. -- See NCJ-200932)

NCJ Number
Theresa Witt Ph.D.; Jayanthi M. Kasiraj Ph.D.; Nora J. Baladerian Ph.D.
Date Published
6 pages
This chapter examines the higher risk of abuse for children with disabilities, the ongoing needs of disabled children who have experienced abuse/neglect, and the roles of specialized mental health services and California's regional centers in serving abused and neglected disabled children.
Statistics on child abuse victims with disabilities have not been uniformly collected by any Federal, State, or local agency. Researchers have recently begun studies to determine whether disabled children are at higher risk for abuse, and if so, what child, parent, and environmental factors make them more vulnerable. Ammerman, et al. (1994) studied a group of dually diagnosed children (those presenting with developmental/psychiatric and physical disabilities) to determine the incidence rate of past or recent abuse. More severe disciplinary techniques were associated with children who were young, oppositional, and higher functioning, as well as with mothers who reported low levels of social support and increased anger reactivity. The Verdugo, Bermejo, and Fuertes (1995) study suggested that children who were less obviously disabled were at much higher risk of maltreatment than the profoundly mentally retarded; the less functionally impaired a child was the more likely the child was to be abused; the greater the speech defect, the greater the prevalence of maltreatment; and the worse the behavior of the child, the worse the maltreatment. Rodriquez and Murphy (1997) found that high parenting stress was particularly prevalent in the sample of mothers with disabled children, and scores on a child-abuse potential inventory were significantly higher than norms matched for ethnic background and level of education. A study by Sobsey, Randall, and Parrila (1997) found that almost two-thirds of abused children with disabilities were boys. After a review of recent relevant studies, this chapter outlines hypothesized abuse vulnerabilities for disabled children, categorized by sexual abuse, physical abuse, and neglect. In discussing ongoing needs for disabled children who have experienced abuse/neglect, the chapter notes that symptomatology that may be perceived as possibly related to abuse in a nondisabled population of children may be overlooked in a disabled population. Although research continues to be equivocal as to the most appropriate form of psychotherapy to use with disabled persons who have been abused, a growing body of evidence has documented the implementation of treatments for sexually abused children who are developmentally disabled (Mansell, Sobsey, and Moskal, 1998). A larger problem is the limited number of clinicians who are qualified to work with these children. California has 21 regional centers mandated to provide free advocacy and services for all individuals with developmental disabilities. These centers are appropriate for the treatment of disabled children who have been abused. Six recommendations are offered for the development of a systematic and coordinated intervention approach for disabled children who have been abused. 26 references