Safety is understandably a primary concern of parents who have vulnerable children. The sad reality is that children with disabilities are mistreated at higher rates compared to children without disabilities (see report from the Disability and Abuse Project [PDF]).It is wise for parents to research the schools their child’s team is considering and learn about their record of reported abuses
Agreeing to a residential placement for a child with a disability is truly an act of trust. However, this does not mean that parents stop being observant. Many parents grapple with fears of varying degrees when sending children to activities they are not supervising. Research on other vulnerable populations (e.g., individuals with dementia in nursing facilities) has shown the following to decrease risk of abuse:
- Family members should make frequent visits and phone calls with their child; be a regular presence at the residential placement, noticing whether the child is happy, well-groomed, etc.
- during calls and visits, take a few moments to interact and form relationships with staff who care for the child
- supply your child’s room with family photos and pictures of loved ones
- participate in events at the child’s school to become a part of the community (be more of an insider to the school’s culture) and to notice how other children are treated
In general, create on-going reminders that the child is a person who is part of a larger network and that other eyes are monitoring their care. Form and maintain positive relations with front-line staff, expressing appreciation for the special things they do. Parents can model how they want their child to be treated by treating the staff with similar respect and dignity.
If at any time during a child’s placement parents suspect abuse, they should report their concerns immediately to the school and/or contact the Department of Children and Families at 800-792-5200. For suspected abuse or neglect of adult children in residential placement or group homes, call the Disabled Persons Protection Commission’s 24-hour Hotline at 1-800-426-9009 or 1-888-822-0350 TTY.