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Annotation: The Abuse of Disabled Children

  • Helen L. Westcott (a1) and David P. H. Jones (a2)


Open almost any recent social work magazine, or child protection text, and some reference to the abuse of disabled children will be included. Yet awareness of abuse within this group has resulted from a relatively recent growth of interest on the part of psychologists and social work and child protection professionals. Previously, sociocultural and political factors contributed to an otherwise muted response to research dating back to the 1960s, which clearly documents abuse of children who have an impairment or “developmental disability” of some kind. Reviewing this research reveals as much about society's reaction to disability and to disabled children, as it does about the abuse itself. This Annotation presents research in relation to three issues: (1) prevalence of abuse of disabled children; (2) responding to abuse; and (3) preventing abuse.


Corresponding author

Requests for reprints to: Dr Helen Westcott, Department of Psychology, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, U.K. (E-mail:


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Throughout this paper the term “disabled children” is used in preference to the term “children with disabilities”. This reflects our support for the social model of disability (e.g. Swain, Finkelstein, French, & Oliver, 1993), which distinguishes between the child's bodily “impairment” and their experience of “disability”. The latter stems from social factors such as prejudice and discrimination against people who have impairments, which is exemplified, for example, in unequal and inadequate access to facilities, services, and employment. Further, in using this terminology, we view the child's impairment as an integral part of their identity, not something separate or “additional” to their identity as a child.




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