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Indiana Protection & Advocacy Services

IPAS > Abuse & Neglect > Abuse & Neglect Abuse & Neglect

A Growing Crisis: Abuse and Neglect of Children and Adults with Disabilities

Children with disabilities are victims of abuse at three to 10 times the rate of other children.

What is abuse and neglect?

Under Indiana code, this crime occurs whenever the physical or mental health of a person with disabilities is seriously endangered. In 90 percent of these cases, the abuser is someone authorized to care for the victim, like a school bus driver, a service assistant, or even a parent.

These occurrences are not identified in US crime statistics, making it difficult to track accurately the magnitude of this growing national crisis. However, we do know that approximately 5 million adults with disabilities become crime victims each year, and that children with disabilities are more than three times more likely than other children to become victims of abuse.

Underreporting is a key contributor to this growing national epidemic. Less than 10 percent of abuse and neglect of children and adults with disabilities is reported.

Why are children and adults with disabilities more likely to be abused?

Among people with disabilities, the usual risk factors for abuse, like dependence, are intensified. Behaviorally challenging individuals or those with profound physical or mental needs are considered to be the most vulnerable. But there are a number of related problems that contribute to this silent epidemic, such as:

  • Behavioral problems and high levels of custodial care add stress and-can lead to abuse or neglect.
  • Parents' fear children losing services, so they may not report abuse from caretakers, service providers or school staff.
  • Victims may not recognize or understand that their treatment is wrong.
  • Victims may not be able to communicate about abuse or neglect.
  • Behavior changes associated with abuse might be attributed to the disability.

What are the consequences of abuse and neglect?

Abuse and neglect of individuals with disabilities can have long-lasting, potentially devastating effects. Physical harm, such as damage to the central nervous system, fractures, internal injuries, burns, malnutrition, and shaken-baby syndrome can even result in additional disabilities, or death.

Other consequences of abuse may be more difficult to detect than physical damage. Long-term emotional trauma can result, leading to behavioral problems, the inability to trust, fear of strangers or caretakers and even post-traumatic stress syndrome.

How can you spot abuse or neglect?

Knowing the signs and how to report suspected abuse and neglect is as important as knowing how to prevent it.

Physical signs like bruises, broken bones, head injuries, and burns are the most obvious evidence. Changes in behavior are also important indicators, since children and adults with disabilities may be unable to report their mistreatment. Some people with disabilities may be able to report directly their abuse or neglect, and should be taken seriously if this occurs.

How can abuse and neglect of persons with disabilities be prevented?

Unfortunately, many families, educators, and service providers are unfamiliar with protection and criminal justice systems, and many protection and law enforcement personnel are unfamiliar with the needs of individuals with disabilities.

Training and education programs for these key audiences are crucial in order to prevent abuse and neglect. Family support programs, including respite care, support groups and one-on-one counseling can also help diffuse stress and situations that may lead to abuse or neglect.

It's also important that everyone knows how to recognize the signs of abuse and neglect, and how to report abuse and neglect if they suspect or witness mistreatment of an individual with disabilities.

How should people report suspected cases of abuse and neglect?

In an emergency involving suspected abuse or neglect, call 9-1-1.

In Indiana, anyone who witnesses or suspects abuse or neglect of a child or adult with disabilities is also legally required to contact Adult or Child Protection Services to report the alleged mistreatment.

Child Protection Services operates a toll-free, 24-hour crisis line that allows people to report suspected abuse and neglect at- (800) 800-5556. Reports can be made anonymously. Information needed includes:

  • Name and age of the child
  • Names of the parent or guardian(s)
  • Physical address of the child
  • Phone number of the child
  • What abuse or neglect you witnessed, including dates and specifics

A similar hotline is available through Adult Protection Services-(800) 992-6978.

An additional call to IPAS will also help make sure that the incident is documented and that the appropriate follow-up occurs-(800) 622-4845 or TTY (800) 838-1131.

TIPS For Law Enforcement and Correction Personnel, is a document that provides both general and specific suggestions for use during routine and crisis encounter with people with disabilities within the criminal justice system.