Department of Communities, Disability Services and Seniors

Risk factors

Below are a number of characteristics that should be considered in assessing a person’s exposure to risk of abuse, neglect and exploitation. An assessment of circumstances might then help disability services staff to develop strategies to reduce risk.

Service characteristics

  • Segregated service environments (e.g. residential care facilities, sheltered employment)
  • Overcrowding
  • Incompatibility between residents and/or co-workers or other service users
  • Clients not valued and respected
  • Tolerance of violence
  • Lacking quality management systems
  • High staff turnover

Family characteristics

  • Low levels of attachment between family members (parent–child, sibling relationships)
  • Past or current substance abuse
  • Perceived caregiver stress
  • Social isolation
  • Power and control issues
  • Poor health and wellbeing, including social determinants such as low income, inadequate housing etc.
  • Negative attitudes towards people with disability demonstrated by family members
  • High levels of dependency (either on or by the person with a disability)
  • Lack of awareness and use of formal supports
  • History of family violence and attitudes suggesting a tolerance of family violence

Individual characteristics

  • Social isolation and lack of close relationships
  • Communication difficulties
  • Challenging, disruptive, reckless and/or risky behaviour
  • Inappropriate sexual behaviour
  • Learnt over-compliance or complete dependence on caregivers
  • Limited physical mobility
  • Limited sense of personal power, low self-esteem
  • Low income or restricted access to resources
  • Limited sex education or age-appropriate sexual experiences
  • High tolerance of violence
  • Lack of self-protection skills
  • Limited life experiences
  • Lack of knowledge of rights

This list of characteristics is not exhaustive and other factors may also contribute to or increase a person’s risk.

A number of people with disability have significant communication and sensory issues, and as a result may have difficulty raising concerns about incidences of abuse, neglect and exploitation. It is essential that people with communication and sensory issues are provided with appropriate communication tools.