The Safety Net

Preventing Physical Abuse


During the month of May there were eighty-seven (87) allegations of physical abuse of persons with developmental disabilities reported in California. Sixty-two percent (62%) were alleged to have occurred in licensed homes, ten percent (10%) were reported by Day Programs and nine percent (9%) each were reported in the community. The majority of allegations, (72%), came from licensed vendor locations.

As a service provider there are some things that you can do to reduce the number of incidents of physical abuse. Check the following list and see if there is more that you could do to prevent physical abuse allegations.

  1. Screen your employees very carefully. It is a sad fact that predatory abusers seek employment in care giving positions in order to have access to victims¹. Be certain that you have done all you can to check the background of employees. Check references and follow up to find out why there are gaps in employment. Check with previous employers in other states where the individual may have been employed.
  2. Observe workers as they interact with consumers. If you are an employer or a co-worker, you can learn to spot behaviors that may be dangerous to consumers. An employee who has a quick temper with co-workers will probably have the same reaction to consumers.
  3. If you are a supervisor or a manager, get a reputation for “dropping in”or visits at unscheduled times. This will discourage bad work habits of any type such as sleeping on the job, which could lead to consumer to consumer abuse or other situations of neglect, when no one is watching.
  4. Provide adequate training for staff on recognizing and preventing abuse. Be sure no new employee begins work without a good understanding of what constitutes abuse and neglect. Make it clear that behaviors that may be tolerated in some families such as rough “horseplay”or wrestling with consumers will not be tolerated.
  5. Provide training to all staff and consumers about reporting of abuse. Be sure that everyone knows who to call and under what circumstances to report suspected abuse. Post phone numbers and talk about reporting during staff and consumer meetings.
  6. Promote unscheduled visits from families, service coordinators and friends of the consumers. Assure that consumers are listened to and their opinions are valued. Be sure consumers participate fully in the daily life of their home. An open atmosphere of mutual respect is your best weapon in the prevention of abuse.
  7. Be sure that all of your employees watch the Department of Justice tape that you should have received recently. If you don't have it, contact the Crime Prevention Unit within the DOJ at (916) 322-9121. All employees must receive this valuable training by September 1, 2002.

¹ Petersilia, Joan, Foote, Joseph and Crowell, Nancy A., Editors; Crime Victims with Developmental Disabilities, Report of a Workshop; National Academy Press, 2001.



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