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Implications of Infectious Disease Outbreaks for Children with Disabilities

Discover how children with disabilities may be impacted by COVID-19 and other infectious disease outbreaks.

Globally, children with disabilities are:

  • Highly vulnerable to stigma, discrimination and segregation.
  • Less likely to attend school, access medical services or have their voices heard in society.
  • At higher risk of all forms of abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence.
  • At increased risk during COVID-19 and other infectious diseases because of the challenges they already face in their daily lives.

During COVID-19 and other infectious disease outbreaks(IDOs), children with disabilities are a group that may experience specific heightened barriers to accessing information, services, care and support and be at higher risk of protection concerns.

The table below is adapted from Save the Children’s “Tip Sheet for Disability Inclusion during COVID-19: Child Protection.” The table outlines specific protection risks for children with disabilities as well as examples of reasons for the increased risk.

Protection Risks for Children with Disabilities during COVID-19 and Other IDOs

Protection Risk Underlying Reasons for Increased Risk Levels
Children with disabilities can be more exposed and susceptible to the impact of IDOs. 1) Underlying health risks that increase the possibility of contracting the disease or of suffering more greatly if they do catch the disease. 2) Reduced access to required medications and medical services. 3) Need support for measures such as washing hands (e.g., reaching water sources, hygiene supplies and soap). 4) Public health information is often in formats that are not accessible. 5) Greater risk of exposure to the virus due to their care needs that can prevent social distance or isolation measures, either when cared for at home or in institutions.
Loss of support system and routines may result in regression and psychological harm. 1) Closure of and lack of accessible remote modalities for schools, rehabilitation services, residential and day centers and group activities disrupt services that are essential to the health and well-being of children with disabilities. 2) Social distancing requirements that limit family and community support systems.
Increased risk of abandonment, abuse, neglect and violence during IDOs. 1) Negative attitudes toward children with disabilities can reduce their care and protection when resources are stretched. 2) Changes in primary caregiver (e.g., due to illness) can result in abuse, neglect, exploitation and/or emotional and psychological distress. 3) Children in alternative care settings are at greater risk of abandonment. 4) Higher risk of being placed in residential care, especially if separated from primary caregiver due to isolation measures. 5) Reduced levels of staffing and care in residential care settings can result in neglect or abuse. 6) Lack of inclusive remote support for parents of children with disabilities. 7) Closure of residential schools can return children to families without adequate support.
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Protecting Children during Infectious Disease Outbreaks

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