Guest post by Sally Robinson

"Protecting children is everyone's business" - It is especially worth thinking about how much really goes into making the protection of children and young people with intellectual disability everyone's business.

Sadly, research and experience show that in the lives of too many children and young people with disability, there is a reluctance on the part of many people to make it their business to help keep children safe, or to step in to prevent or stop harm from occurring1.

The horrifying statistic that children with disability are over three times more likely to experience abuse than their peers without disability should give us all pause2.

In participatory research projects with young people with intellectual disabilities, we have heard many stories from young people (and their families) about harassment, abuse, assault, and vilification because they have a disability3. Perhaps one of the most difficult things about this litany of harms is the lacklustre response that young people with disability receive. People have told us about being ignored, their experiences being minimised, about being managed and controlled, about being ‘behaviourally supported’ right out of the school in which the assault happened, about being blamed.4

But people have also told us about what helped. They have told us about being listened to. About being comforted, respected and validated when they have been hurt. About being believed. And most of all, about having action taken to respond to harms against them, in consultation with them and their families. Sometimes this has been by people in positions of authority – school principals, managers of disability services, and police. Sometimes, it has been actions by people who are allies in their struggle – their peers and friends, family members, other families or workers in schools and services. And sometimes, it has been actions by people who are part of the wider fabric of the local community.

For me, preventing harm is a critical area of work we need to collectively address. This is particularly crucial for children and young people with disability.
There is creative, collaborative work happening in schools, support services and inclusive spaces which builds expectations that everyone is welcome, everyone is valued, and everyone contributes in one way or another. In these climates, harm is both less likely to happen, and less likely to be tolerated.5

Preventing and addressing harm is an urgent priority for both children and adults as the National Disability Insurance Scheme rolls out. More important even that that, though, is activating the National Disability Strategy - to ensure that people with disability across all walks of life, in all domains (not just funded supports), are supported with safeguards that protect their right to safety and at the same time promote their right to full and happy lives.

Sally Robinson 450pxDr Sally Robinson, is a researcher (she finds stuff out and tells people about it) Centre for Children and Young People, Southern Cross University. Sally has worked with people with disability in a range of contexts over the past twenty years, including as a social researcher, advocate and service provider. She has longstanding experience in social research concerning people with disability. Sally is also a NSW CID Member and a current Member of the NDIA Intellectual Disability Reference Group.


1Stalker, K., & McArthur, K. (2012). Child abuse, child protection and disabled children: a review of recent research. Child Abuse Review, 21(1), 24–40.
2Jones, L., Bellis, M. A., Wood, S., Hughes, K., McCoy, E., Eckley, L., ...Officer, A. (2012). Prevalence and risk of violence against children with disabilities: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. The Lancet, July 12, 1–9. 
3Robinson, S., Hill, M., Fisher, K., Graham, A., & valentine, k. (2014) In the picture: understanding belonging and connection for young people with cognitive disability in regional communities through photo-rich research, final report. National Disability Research and Development Grant, Centre for Children and Young People, Southern Cross University, Lismore. http://belonging.net.au/about-belonging/
4Robinson, S. & McGovern, D. (2014) Safe at School? Exploring safety and harm of students with cognitive dis-ability in and around school. Lismore, Centre for Children and Young People. Report completed for the NSW Law and Justice Foundation.
5Robinson, S. (2014) Preventing abuse of children and young people with disability under the National Disability Insurance Scheme: A brave new world? Australian Social Work, published online 9/8/14 DOI:10.1080/0312407X.2014.950977

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