How much support is there for families with disabled children who experience abuse?

A new study aims to shine a light on the lack of support for the families of disabled children and young people, and understand what support they need to recover from the trauma of sexual exploitation. 

Disabled children and young people are significantly more at risk of experiencing all forms of abuse, including sexual abuse and exploitation, than their non-disabled peers.  

Until now, their views and experiences have remained unheard. 

For the first time, researchers will focus on exploitation and the vulnerability of this group which has been repeatedly highlighted by the Government, in order to improve policy and practice. 

Child sexual exploitation can have a devastating, long-term impact on the child who is abused, but also for the whole family. It is important that we learn from the experiences of families to improve support.

Professor Franklin, University of Portsmouth

This project will build on previous research by professor of childhood studies Anita Franklin, at the University of Portsmouth, which sought disabled young peoples’ views on the responses they received from services following exploitation, and explored the extent to which the needs of young people and their families were understood by practitioners. 

She said there is little support for children and young people and their families in these circumstances and services are often not well equipped or trained to meet their needs. 

Professor Franklin said: “Child sexual exploitation can have a devastating, long-term impact on the child who is abused, but also for the whole family. It is important that we learn from the experiences of families to improve support. 

“Disabled children and young people often need support to be tailored to meet their needs but we do not yet have an evidence-base of what works, and importantly, we have rarely asked families what they need, and what would have helped them. 

“Disabled children who have been exploited are often invisible, falling between services but with parents trying to do everything they can to protect their children. This research will enable parents of disabled children to finally be heard.”

 We hope the project will raise awareness, and recognition of the different kinds of support needed nationally and from Local Safeguarding Partnerships to develop the multi-agency practice skills, and policy responses, needed by this group.

Sarah Goff , The Ann Craft Trust

The findings will provide important new learning to support practice to better protect disabled children and young people, and understand what kinds of responses meet their needs, and help children and their whole families to recover.   

University of Portsmouth researchers are joined on this project by colleagues from two specialist national organisations; Pauline Bainbridge from Pace (Parents Against Child Exploitation) and Sarah Goff from the Ann Craft Trust. 

Pace (Parents against Child Exploitation) provide direct support to parents and carers of children who are being, or are at risk of being, exploited, and The Ann Craft Trust, based at Nottingham University, is a leading UK authority on safeguarding adults and young people at risk.  

Pauline Bainbridge, at Pace, said: “We welcome the opportunity for parent’s voices and experiences to be heard. Too often parents are ignored or their views marginalised, yet they are the ones living with the effects of child sexual exploitation on their child and they experience first-hand the devastation it brings to the whole family. We hope this research will see an adaption to forward-looking practices and policies that bring positive changes to families and especially children.” 

Sarah Goff from The Ann Craft Trust said: “Disabled children face far higher risks of abuse at the same time as far lower levels of practitioner awareness across all services. We hope the project will raise awareness, and recognition of the different kinds of support needed nationally and from Local Safeguarding Partnerships to develop the multi-agency practice skills, and policy responses, needed by this group.”

The study is funded by the University of Portsmouth’s Health and Wellbeing Research Theme.

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