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  • Children with disabilities risk of maltreatment

    Author: AAP

New research highlights the importance of ensuring that children with disabilities and their families have appropriate services and support structures.

Children with behavioural or mental disorders are much more likely to suffer maltreatment.

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A Telethon Kids Institute study has found children with disabilities are three times more likely to be maltreated compared to other children.

And the risk of maltreatment varies greatly depending on the type of disability.

Supervising author Dr Melissa O'Donnell says the study clearly shows more support is needed for families with a child with a disability.

The study funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Australian Research Council looked at more than 500,000 children born in Western Australia between 1990-2010.

Researchers analysed various government databases the Intellectual Disability Exploring Answers database and the Department of Child Protection and Family Support for the study.

Overall, they found 4.6 per cent of all children had a maltreatment allegation.

One in three of the substantiated allegations involved a child with a disability.

Children with an intellectual disability, mental and behavioural or conduct disorders were at the highest risk, supervising author Dr Melissa O'Donnell said.

Children with autism had a lower risk of maltreatment, and children with Down syndrome, birth defects or cerebral palsy displayed the same risk as children without a disability.

Dr O'Donnell says the children at higher risk of maltreatment were also more likely to have young parents or parents who have been hospitalised for mental health issues and living in more "disadvantaged" neighbourhoods.

"These families already face additional stressors and have fewer resources to access services for their children's special needs," she said.

Pediatricians and those working with families who have a child with disability should be aware of the extra support required for those families to help meet the child's needs.

"But also to support the parents in managing the often more complex parenting environment," Dr O'Donnell said.

On a broader scale, she says, governments have an important role in ensuring children with disabilities and their families have access to appropriate services and support structures.

The study is published in the journal Pediatrics.

Maltreatment allegations broken down into disability type:

  • Children with intellectual disability comprised 6.7 per cent of allegations
  • Children with birth defects/cerebral palsy comprised 6.6 per cent of allegations
  • Children with conduct disorder comprised 4.5 per cent of allegations
  • The largest number of allegations were for children with mental/behavioural disorders (15.6 per cent).
  • Only a small proportion of allegations included children with Down syndrome (0.1 per cent) or autism (0.7 per cent).


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