CHILDREN with learning disabilities are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation than others, but they are often overlooked, new research has found.
A joint report, Unsupported, Overprotected, by a group of support agencies, says that there is a false perception that they do not need education on sex and relationships, or accessible information about how to keep safe online and in the community.
It also says that significant numbers of children with learning disabilities are not being adequately protected, owing to a lack of specialist services and a failure to implement existing policies.
Part of the problem is that few children with learning disabilities meet the high thresholds for support, it says. There is also limited awareness that young people with learning disabilities are sexually exploited.
The chief executive of the British Institute of Learning Disabilities, Ann Chivers, described the report’s findings as “shocking”. She said: “In denying young people with learning disabilities their sexuality, and their need for healthy relationship education, we have inadvertently increased their vulnerability. They need support to be happy, healthy, and safe.”
The report was commissioned by Comic Relief, and undertaken by the Institute, Barnardo’s, the Children’s Society, Paradigm Research, and Coventry University.
It calls on UK authorities to ensure that accessible and relevant education on sex and relationships is available to children and young people with learning disabilities, and identifies a need for more training for professionals, and for services to work together to better prevent, identify, and provide effective support. It also says that support for parents, and awareness-raising in the community, is crucial to keeping children with learning disabilities safe.
The chief executive of Barnardo’s, Javed Khan, said: “A lack of awareness of the needs of these vulnerable children is playing into the hands of perpetrators of sexual exploitation. Professionals working with children must get training to recognise the risks faced by children with learning disabilities, and help them to stay safe.”
The Children’s Society’s chief executive, Matthew Reed, said that children with learning disabilities “need to be given the knowledge that will help them protect themselves. . . It is vital that they get the sex and relationship education they need to help keep them safe.”