Tips for Law Enforcement First Response to a Suspected Abuse Call for Children with Disabilities - Action/ Clarification



1. Ask the dispatcher if the caller indicated that the child or the family members have a disability. (It is unlawful for the dispatcher or other person to directly ask if the person has a disability.)


Your immediate concern is a possible barrier to effective communication.

You will call for an interpreter if the child or family is deaf, hard of hearing or has another communication disability that requires the assistance of an interpreter.



2. Ask the dispatcher if the caller identified the disability of the child or any family member.


This will help you mentally prepare for your contact, as well as call in for experts that may be needed. Ask for general category: Who has a disability (child victim or other family member). What type of disability:

  • Mental retardation or other cognitive disability?
  • Mental illness?
  • Communication disability?
  • Physical disability?
  • Sensory disability?
  • Respiratory disability?

3. Ask the family or caregiver how the disability affects the victim.


This may influence how you will approach the victim, how much space you will leave between you, how loud or soft your tone of voice, and to whom you direct your initial conversation.



4. Ask the family or caregiver how the child typically responds to stress.


When stressed the individual may rock, grimace, hum, grind teeth, or need to stand and pace. Your familiarity with the person’s style, and how to effectively respond to the stress will help during the interview.



5. Use your standard protocol for the interview, encapsulated in the pneumonic, GREAT COP SAYS FFF!


When you stick to your standard protocol, you can do a great job with an individual with any disability.



6. It is important to believe that the child can likely tell you about the abuse, using her/his communication style.


The child’s communication style may not conform to our general expectations. The details of a story may not be in chronological order. Further, the child’s vocabulary may be different from the norm.



7. Don’t be afraid to be creative in your communication with the victim.


If you cannot understand the victim, ask for help from the victim to understand. Use alternative communication methods.



8. Be patient with yourself. Allow yourself the luxury of “learning” from the child.


The child’s appearance or conduct may be very new to you.



9. Consult with a disability specialist regarding the process, content and interpretation of the interview to determine next steps to assure a solid forensic basis for prosecution.



It is best to have a disability specialist on your team and observing the interview. This expert can assist with forming the questions and interpreting the responses.




Baladerian, N.J., Heisler, C., & Hertica, M. (n.d.) Child abuse victims with disabilities: A curriculum for law  enforcement first responders and child protective services frontline workers-participant manual.California: Child abuse and neglect disability outreach program of arc riverside. Retrieved from http://www.disabilityandabuse.org/resources/Participant.pdf