November 2015

Disabled Children and Vulnerable Adults

Changing Attitudes to Learning Disabilities - Mencap Report
This newly launched review provides an overview of previous attempts to change attitudes towards learning disability, identifies gaps in the evidence and suggests ways forward.
Why This Is Important

Negative attitudes towards people with a learning disability have a significant impact on their lives. People with a learning disability are often socially excluded and exposed to negative perceptions and unwelcome behaviours. Many are prevented from equal participation in education, employment, leisure and social pursuits. Not only are they often targets of verbal and physical harassment and abuse, in some cases they are the victims of horrific hate crimes. More needs to be done to tackle negative attitudes to individuals with a learning disability, and to break down barriers that stop people with a learning disability from being accepted within society, and from accessing a wide range of opportunities and experiences taken for granted by people who do not have a disability are not disabled.
What Are Attitudes?

Attitudes are made up of three parts:
• a cognitive component (how we think about something),
• an emotional component (how we feel about something)
• a behavioural component (how we act towards something)
Sometimes people associate ‘attitudes’ with just the cognitive component (what we think), in other fields the term ‘stigma’ has been used because it more explicitly covers all three parts. However, to date, stigma has rarely been used in the learning disabilities field. Hence, this report uses the term attitudes when describing work in the learning disabilities field.
Past Research

There is relatively little large scale research into the general population’s understanding of learning disability and their attitudes towards people with a learning disability. However, the few studies that have taken place suggest there is widespread confusion about learning disability and that misconceptions, for example that people with a learning disability can do little for themselves, are common. It has been suggested that a reluctance to interact with people with learning disabilities may arise from misconceptions like this. Misconceptions and discrimination affect the daily lives of people with learning disabilities, limiting the opportunities available to them, and whether they are active participants in their communities and society at large. Therefore education about learning disability will likely need to be one component of efforts to improve attitudes.
Click here to find out what your organisation can do to change attitudes and help safeguard children with learning disabilities and vulnerable adults.

Is Stat right?
It is difficult to give an accurate number of disabled children in England due to different data sources using different definitions of disability.
There are about 770,000 children age under 16 in the UK with a disability, 6 per cent of the child population
  • Prevalence is higher among boys (8.8 per cent) than girls (5.8 per cent)
  • Boys have a higher rate overall and are more likely than girls to experience difficulties with physical coordination; memory, concentration and learning; communication
  • Disabled children are more likely to live with low-income, deprivation, debt and poor housing.
  • 66 per cent of disabled children live in a 2 parent family.  The proportion of children  living in lone parent families (34 per cent) is greater than that for non-disabled children
Prevalence of childhood disability and the characteristics and circumstances of disabled children in the UK
  • Parents of a disabled child are more likely to separate.
  • A disabled child is more likely to have a disabled brother or sister.
  • Parents of disabled children report their children face barriers not only to education, but also to taking part in leisure or play.
  • Young disabled people are more likely to experience bullying.
Click here for full facts and figures on ethnicity, mental health, finance, education and work.
Safeguarding Disabled Children – What Can We Learn From Research and Best Practice?

Society is still in denial about the fact that disabled children are more likely to be abused than non-disabled children. Since the start of 2010 there have been at least seven serious case reviews involving disabled children and this year there were the disturbing findings of abuse and neglect in a number of hospitals and care homes for learning disabled people.

So What Does the Research Tell Us?

We still know relatively little about the abuse of disabled children. Stalker et al (1) found that we have very little up-to-date information available on the prevalence of abuse of disabled children in the UK. A large-scale US study of over 40,000 children found that disabled children were 3.4 times more likely to be abused or neglected than non-disabled children (2: Sullivan and Knutson). While UK research is limited, several studies indicate similar levels of abuse as in the US.

Brandon et al’s (3) analysis of serious case reviews found 21 children who were disabled prior to the incident that led to the serious case review. This represented 8% of the 268 children who had been the subject of a serious case review in the period examined. Disabled children also seem more likely to be bullied. The Office of the Children’s Commissioner (4) found that disabled children are twice as likely as their peers to become targets for bullies. The lack of self-esteem resulting from bullying can in itself make disabled children more vulnerable to abuse.

You may be working directly with disabled children on a regular basis or you may come into contact with them occasionally. What are the standards we should all aspire to and how can we learn from research and best practice?
● Beliefs that minimise the impact of abuse on disabled children can lead to a failure to report abuse or neglect.
● Disabled children should be treated with the same degree of professional concern accorded to non-disabled children.
● Be prepared to challenge carers and ensure that abusive and restrictive practices do not go unrecognised.
● The child’s impairment should not detract from early multi-agency assessments of need that consider possible underlying causes for concern.
● Always ask when involved in the assessment of a disabled child: “Would I consider that option if the child were not disabled?”
● Recognise the barriers to communication disabled children experience, be aware of different communication methods and where to seek specialist advice.
● Make it everyday practice for disabled children to make their wishes and feelings known and ensure they know how to raise concerns.

Learning for Managers:

● Additional resources and time may need to be allocated if an investigation of potential or alleged abuse of a disabled child is to be meaningful.
● Basic training and awareness raising of the susceptibility of disabled children to abuse is essential for those working with disabled children.
● Promote a culture of consulting with, listening to and encouraging the participation of disabled children.
● Ensure disabled children with communication support needs can access helplines and advocacy services.
● Ensure there is clarity of responsibility for safeguarding disabled children between different social care teams and multi-agency groups and the safeguarding needs of children living away from home are prioritised.
● Make available to all staff up-to-date information about specialist advice and resources, experts, interpreters and court intermediaries and the funding to access these.

Northumberland Safeguarding Children Board provides training on the subject. The next available course is on 14th January 2016 in Cramlington.  Click here for course details and how to apply for a place.

  1. Stalker K, Green Lister, Lerpiniere J, McArthur K (2010), “Child protection and the needs and rights of disabled children and young people: A scoping study”, University of Strathclyde. Available to download from:
  2. Sullivan P M, Knutson J F (2000), “Maltreatment and disabilities: A population-based epidemiological study”, Child Abuse and Neglect, 24, pp1257-1273
  3. Brandon M, Bailey S, Belderson P (2010), Building on the learning from serious case reviews: a two-year analysis of child protection data base notifications 2007-2009. Research report DFE- RR040
  4. Office of the Children’s Commissioner (2006), Bullying Today: A Report by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, OCC

What’s the Difference Between Learning Disability and Having a Mental Health Problem?

What is a Mental Health Problem?

A mental health problem is a term used to cover a range of emotional, psychological or psychiatric distress experienced by people.  About a quarter of the population will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year.

Is Mental Health the Same As Learning Disability?

No! Unlike learning disability, mental health problems can affect anyone at any time and may be overcome with treatment. A learning disability is a reduced intellectual difficulty with everyday activities which affects someone for their whole life.

Can You Have a Learning Disability and a Mental Health Problem?

Yes you can. In fact, research suggests that between 27% and 41% of adults with a learning disability have a mental health problem and about 40% of children with a learning disability suffer from mental health problems.

In the past, it was rarely recognised when a person with learning disability suffered from mental health problems and, even in recent times, often mental health problems in people with a learning disability are overlooked or underestimated.

Why Are People With a Learning Disability More Likely to Have Mental Health Problems?

Lots of different reasons have been suggested to explain why people with a learning disability are more vulnerable to mental health problems. These include the fact that people with a learning disability are more likely to experience deprivation, poverty and other adverse life events earlier on in life, an increased risk of social exclusion and loneliness and other people’s negative attitudes towards people with a learning disability.

Do We Always Know If Someone With a Learning Disability Has a Mental Health Problem?

A major barrier to diagnosing mental health problems in people with a learning disability is that symptoms shown by someone with a learning disability might be seen as behaviour related to their learning disability instead of the real problem - the mental health problem. 

Another reason is that mental health and learning disability services are often separate, and do not always work together. This means that assessment measures to detect mental health problems in people with a learning disability are not always well developed.

If you think that someone with a learning disability you are supporting may be experiencing a mental health problem and would like to talk to someone about it then call Mencap helpline: 0808 808 1111.



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