Responses to abuse, neglect, and trauma of children with intellectual disability

Experiences of social workers and health practitioners in Aotearoa New Zealand


  • Kim Louise Simpson Registered Social Worker Disability Sector
  • Polly Yeung School of Social Work, Massey University
  • Robyn Munford School of Social Work, Massey University



children, intellectual disabilities, abuse, best practice, relational practice


PURPOSE: Children with intellectual disabilities are three to four times more likely to be abused and neglected than their peers without intellectual disabilities. While the Children’s Action Plan and Children’s Act (2014) aim to keep children safe and ensure their needs are met, much of the focus still treats children as a homogenous group with limited reference to children with disability. The current research focused on exploring the experiences and perspectives of social workers and health practitioners to abuse, neglect, and trauma among children with intellectual disabilities.

METHODS: In 2020, eight participants were first involved in a focus group to provide a wider perspective of practice and policy issues of abuse, neglect, and trauma among children with intellectual disability. This was followed by a more in-depth exploration and investigation with four experienced social workers to understand the issues and challenges in supporting this cohort of children and to identify what best practices are needed to strengthen service provision.

FINDINGS: Results of the study indicated that, to ensure safety and implement support interventions, practitioners need to be equipped with knowledge about disability and its related needs. Furthermore, to influence positive and transformative change, a strong relational practice with children with intellectual disabilities, their wh nau and family is paramount.

CONCLUSION: Practitioners are urged to draw on knowledge and skills, such as relational practice, socio-ecological frameworks, human rights and social justice, and advocacy to develop appropriate assessments and interventions to support children with intellectual disabilities and their wellbeing.


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How to Cite

Simpson, K. L., Yeung, P., & Munford, R. (2022). Responses to abuse, neglect, and trauma of children with intellectual disability: Experiences of social workers and health practitioners in Aotearoa New Zealand. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 34(1), 72–87.



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