The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse today published a research report it commissioned that explores how children and young people with disability view their safety and safety needs within institutions.
The report Feeling safe, being safe: What is important to children and young people with disability and high support needs about safety in institutional settings? was undertaken by the Centre for Children and Young People at Southern Cross University (SCU).
Royal Commission Chief Executive Officer Philip Reed said the study was particularly important as, to date, child sexual abuse research has paid little attention to the perspectives of children and young people with disability.
“Little attention has been paid to preventative and safeguarding approaches, or to factors that promote personal safety for children and young people with disability,” Mr Reed said.
The study involved 22 children and young people aged between seven and 25, all of whom have a cognitive impairment; many with multiple impairments. Six family members and 10 professionals were also interviewed individually and in small groups.
The report found that children and young people expressed being safe as: feeling safe and secure; being protected; not being hurt; not trusting strangers and having some control of their situation.
It found that families and professionals seek to build a sense of safety by providing a loving foundation, building capacity and confidence, building networks and taking action on behalf of children and young people.
Factors that help children and young people with disability and high support needs feel and be safe included being in a secure space (for most, home), having friends and feeling known and valued.
However, children and young people said it can be very hard to know what is safe or unsafe, and few remembered learning about safety, either at school or anywhere else. Things that made it difficult for them to feel and be safe included the impact of having experienced various forms of abuse, peer pressure, and being under-supported through transitions.
Further, families and professionals viewed children’s and young people’s understanding of safety as limited. They shared concerns about how the ways in which service systems operate make it very difficult for these particular children and young people to identify trustworthy and untrustworthy people in their lives.
Researchers used a range of research methods including photo elicitation, pictorial mapping, story boards and walk-along interviews to develop an understanding and experience of personal safety in institutions with which they engaged.
Mr Reed said the information gathered will be used to identify characteristics of child safe institutions.
“These findings will help the Royal Commission understand how to better prevent and respond to institutional child sexual abuse.”
The study is part of a suite of projects being undertaken by the Royal Commission that involves the direct views of children and young people.
Read the full report here.