Impact Feature Issue on Children with Disabilities in the Child Welfare System

The Risks of Maltreatment for Children with Disabilities

While the risk factors that contribute to child maltreatment in all children apply to children with disabilities too, the presence of a disability increases both the risk of maltreatment and the impact of maltreatment in the following ways:


  • Greater dependence on caregivers for their personal needs and longer-term dependence on caregivers because they may be less in charge of their own bodies;
  • Physical, cognitive, emotional/mental health disabilities that interfere with being able to understand, resist, or tell someone about abuse;
  • More likely to have their symptoms of abuse or neglect ignored because their symptoms are confused with those of the disability itself; and
  • Greater isolation and fewer chances to socialize that may contribute to low self-esteem and less opportunity to learn how to prevent or end abuse.


  • Higher costs for caring for their child with special needs, including medical care, therapy, equipment, transportation, and childcare;
  • More social isolation;
  • More emotional stress and time pressures to coordinate care for their child’s behavioral, medical, or educational needs;
  • Lack of programs for parents of children with special needs; and
  • Differing cultural values and beliefs about disability and the need for intervention.

Reprinted with permission fromEvery Child Special – Every Child Safe: Protecting Children with Disabilities From Maltreatment – A Call to Action(2000). By G.L. Krahn, et al., Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland, page 22. Retrieved 1/3/06 from www.ohsu.edu/oidd/pdfs/OAKSProjectbw.pdf.