Children with Disabilities and Covid-19

Report from an ISPCAN webinar

On July 15, 2020, ISPCAN hosted a webinar on children with disabilities and the effects of COVID-19, featuring experts Aafke Scharloo, Nora Baladerian and Dr. Shabina Ahmed. This article will outline some of the key points that can be important for child helplines to be aware of to provide the best support possible for children with disabilities.

Children with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to abuse and violence. Children with developmental disabilities are maltreated 2-5 times more frequently than the general population. The increased vulnerability to violence and sexual abuse is due to several different factors, including having less understanding what is going on, being used to ‘obeying’ caregivers and being used to people touching their bodies compared to children who do not have disabilities.

The reporting of violence and sexual abuse for children with developmental disabilities is also problematic. Underreporting is a major concern. Children with developmental disabilities often have less communication skills to report abuse and their reports may not be considered trustworthy. Furthermore, many do not have access to, or the skill to go online or make a phone call, which makes them reliant on the people in their physical presence to report maltreatment.

What can child helplines do to help prevent and respond to violence and abuse against children with disabilities?

In response to this questions, the following advice was provided. Firstly, for children with disabilities who are able to go online, having easy-to-read and audio information on their website about abuse and violence, and other key topics is important. Secondly, when child helplines speak or chat with children with disabilities, it can be helpful to ask questions directly about abuse and violence in an appropriate and sensitive manner. This can help children who struggle to communicate these issues express themselves. Finally, child helplines can also inform concerned adults who meet with children with disabilities in their daily lives, such as parents, carers, religious leaders and teachers on how to detect signs of abuse and violence.

Furthermore, though this was not specifically mentioned in the webinar, child helplines can also be the ‘believer’ of the child when other agencies do not consider the child’s report trustworthy. The role of the child helpline is usually to listen and to empower, not necessarily make judgment about whether or not the report is truthful or not.

Are you a child helpline or an interest organisation interested in joining our online community of practice on children with disabilities? Click here for more information.