My child has special educational needs (SEN), how can I keep them safe?

It’s normal for parents and carers to worry about their children at times. Concerns can include bullying, internet behaviour, and the risk of exploitation.

Keeping a child safe looks different for some families. Children with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities might be more vulnerable to some risks. As a parent of a child with additional needs, you might need to consider different ways to protect them.

SEN safety: a young man looks into the distance wearing a red coat

There are some important things you can consider when thinking about how to keep your child safe:

  • Identifying un-safe people and situations. Your child might not have the skills or understanding to be able to identify when they are not safe. Sometimes there will be an adult there with them to identify the risk for them, but sometimes there might not be.
  • Help them to recognise danger. You should teach them about dangerous situations in a way that they can understand. How you do this will depend on your child’s specific needs. Talk to the SENCo (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) at your child’s school for more advice about this.
  • Help them to communicate. When a child struggles with communication they might not be able to express how they are feeling. Even if they know they are unsafe, they may not be able to tell someone. Try and think about the ways your child best communicates with you. Decide on a plan to regularly check in with them. This might be through drawing, talking, writing, or using visual aids.
  • Share your strategies. It is important that the other adults who care for your child also recognise how to keep your child safe. Talk to these adults and share your concerns, ideas and strategies. They might have some helpful thoughts and insights, too.

Child exploitation

Children who have SEN may be more vulnerable to exploitation.

  • Child exploitation refers to the use of a child for someone else’s advantage. It can happen in lots of different ways.
  • Sometimes children exploit other children by making them think they are friends. Children who struggle to make friends may be particularly vulnerable to this. They may not notice that anything bad is happening. Other children might try to trick a vulnerable child. They might force them to share their money and possessions. They may say it is a normal part of friendship.
  • Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE) is manipulating or pressuring a child to take part in criminal activity. This can include selling drugs and is also linked to other crimes.
  • Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is a type of abuse. It involves coercing, manipulating or pressuring a child into sexual activity. This might be in exchange for gifts, affection, money or social status.

Protecting your child

It can be distressing when you are worried about your child being exploited. But there are ways you can protect and support your child:

  • Talk about your concerns with someone else who can help. This could be school staff, including the SEN Coordinator (SENCo). It might be support workers from other organisations that work with your child. In some areas, you can contact your local Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH). Other areas might require a referral from a safeguarding professional.
  • Be curious. Find out about the people your child spends time with and what they get up to when they are out. If your child doesn’t usually struggle with communication, there are still reasons why they might not speak to you. They might be afraid to talk about what has been going on, and they might be worried about getting into trouble.
  • Be aware of the signs that your child might be being exploited. Our article on child exploitation looks at some of the signs.
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