Relationship Between Child Maltreatment and Disability

By Ashley Ann Marshall, Catherine Corr, and Deserai Miller

Many individuals are aware of the risk for abuse experienced by typically developing children, however, fewer are aware of the increased risk for children with disabilities. A common misconception is that young children with disabilities are less likely to be abused because they are regularly cared for or supervised by adults. However, this belief is untrue as children with disabilities are three to four times more likely to be abused or neglected than typically developing children, which can have devastating effects on their development [3].

Children with developmental disabilities present unique challenges to parents, which can result in a less secure attachment and more punitive control. Subseqently, these outcomes are correlated with higher rates of abuse [1]. Additionally, children with disabilities require extra care and supervision, which can lead to parental stress. Through their literature review, Algood and colleagues (2011) found that parents of children with disabilities were more likely to experience emotional, physical, and financial stress. They also noted the importance of parents of children with disabilities creating a system of social support. Simply being aware that parents of children with developmental disabilities may experience higher levels of stress can help us to be vigilant when maltreatment is suspected and sensitive to the needs of these families.

Not only are children with disabilities more likely to be abused or neglected, children that are abused are at an increased risk for disability [2] [4] [6] [7]. This bidirectional relationship highlights the importance of our need to be aware of these increased risks.

We have a responsibility to recognize the signs of abuse and to be knowledgeable about the reporting process. Our role in understanding and reporting child abuse is difficult, but essential to supporting the healthy development of children. You can become familiar with some of the signs of abuse in children from the table below. If you believe a child is being abused or neglected you need to report it.  You are not in charge of investigating, so you do not need to have a certain amount of facts before you can report abuse or neglect.  Since you are not investigating, you do not need and should not push the child for more details than needed.  If you suspect immediate danger you can call your local emergency number. Also, most child protective workers will ask if you think there is an immediate danger. If you say yes, they will send someone out much faster.

In summary, do not be fooled by the misconception that children with disabilities are at a lower risk for abuse and neglect. This is untrue and our fostering of this misconception could prevent children from receiving the help that they may need. We must be aware of the signs of abuse and vigilant in reporting when we suspect abuse or neglect has occurred.

table of signs of abuse
Table 1. Signs of abuse in children from Fresno Council on Child Abuse :


[1] Algood, C. L., Hong, J. S., Gourdine, R. M., & Williams, A. B. (2011). Maltreatment of children with developmental disabilities: An ecological systems analysis. Children and Youth Services Review33(7), 1142-1148.

[2] Larson, S. A., & Anderson, L. (2006). Children with disabilities and the child welfare system: Prevalence data. Impact: Feature Issue on Children with Disabilities in the Child Welfare System19(1).

[3] Murphy, N. (2011). Maltreatment of children with disabilities the breaking point. Journal of Child Neurology26(8), 1054-1056.

[4] Musheno, K. (2006). Children with disabilities and the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. Impact, 19, 13.

[5] National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2010b). 

[6] Sedlak, A. J., Mettenburg, J., Basena, M., Petta, I., McPherson, K., Greene, A., & Li, S. (2010). Fourth national incidence study of child abuse and neglect (NIS–4): Report to Congress, executive summary. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families.

[7] Sobsey, D. (2002). Exceptionality, education, and maltreatment. Exceptionality,10(1), 29-46.

This post was written by Ashley Anne Marshall, Catherine Corr, PhD, and Deserai Miller, LCSW. Ashley Anne Marshall graduated from the University of Dayton, where she received her bachelor of arts in psychology and family development.  She is currently a student in the Child Studies program empirical research track in Peabody College at Vanderbilt University.  Catherine Corr, PhD, is currently a research associate in the department of Special Education at Vanderbilt University.  Deserai Miller, LCSW, earned her Master’s degree in social work with a specialization in schools from the University of Illinois and is currently pursuing a doctorate degree in early childhood special education.  Ashley Ann, Catherine, and Deserai are all guest bloggers for the MFLN Family Development Early Intervention team.

Upcoming Military Caregiving Virtual Learning Event #1 – Mark Your Calendars!

2015 MFLNMC VLE #1

VLE Session # 1: Rethinking! Creating New Strategies to Build Trust and Credibility

Join the MFLN Military Caregiving team as we reimagine our skills as helping professionals and working with military families in this three-part Virtual Learning Event (VLE) beginning at 11:00 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, October 28.

In Session One of the VLE entitled, Rethinking! Creating New Strategies to Build Trust and Credibility, we will examine strategies for helping professionals in promoting collaborative work with families. The focus will be on the role of the service provider in helping families manage expectations while accessing necessary services. You will learn strategies for communicating with clientele, how to connect families with services and access additional expertise to address identified family needs.

The VLE is centered on the theme of reenergizing and rejuvenating your work environment. This FREE web-based learning opportunity is open to the public and will be similar to a professional conference – no travel involved! Registration is required.

As I mentioned, this is only Session One of a three-part VLE series. To learn more about this VLE and the other sessions to follow, click on 2015 MFLN Military Caregiving VLE.

CEU Credit Available!

The MFLN has applied for 1.5 National Association of Social Workers (NASW) continuing education credit for credentialed participants. Certificates of Completion will also be available for training hours as well. For more information on CEU credits go to: NASW Continuing Education Instructions.

Interested in Joining the VLE?

Go to Rethinking! Creating New Strategies to Build Trust and Credibility, the day of the event to join. The event is hosted by the Department of Defense Collaboration System (DCS), but is open to the public. It is strongly suggested that when using the DCS system that you open the webinar on Google Chrome for both PC and MAC connections. If this is not an option, Internet Explorer may be used if connecting via PC. Safari and Firefox are not compatible with this DCS platform.

For those of you who cannot connect to the DCS site, an alternative viewing of this presentation will be running on Ustream.

This MFLN-Military Caregiving concentration blog post was published on October 16, 2015.

Virtual Learning Event October 2015 – Session 3

VLE 3 | Beyond Mandated Reporting: Building Resiliency with Families

Session 3

Date: October 22, 2015

Time: 11:00am – 12:30pm Eastern


VLE 3 Promotional Graphic
Creative Commons Licensing [Flickr, Strive to Grow Anywhere, October 18, 2014]
Catherine Corr, Ph. D. and Deserai Miller, LCSW, will highlight what trauma looks like in young children, the relationship between abuse and disability, as well as offer strategies for building resiliency within families.  Specific topics will include:

  • Five common misconceptions about child abuse
  • Ten signs of child abuse
  • What a provider can do
  • Resources to assist providers working with families where violence may be an issue or concern

MFLN FD Early Intervention is offering CE Credits through the Early Intervention Training Program (EITP) at the University of Illinois. To find out further information, click here. Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee,  Texas & Virginia participants can obtain a Certificate of Completion to submit to their credentialing agencies for review for CE credits. The EI team is actively pursuing more CE opportunities in states other than Illinois. Please check back frequently to the webinar Learn Event web page to receive updates on our progress.

MFLN Family Development will be offering 1.5 National Association of Social Worker (NASW) and 1.5 Georgia Marriage & Family Therapy CE Credits for each of our professional development training sessions, click here to learn more.

MFLN Family Development’s Virtual Learning Event (VLE) will host a professional development training session on October 8th, 15th, 22nd, and 29th. For more information about upcoming VLE sessions, click here.

For more information on future presentations in the 2015 Family Development webinar series, please visit our professional development website or connect with us via social media for announcements: (Facebook Twitter).

Field Talk: A Q&A with Providers Supporting Military Families

Title Field Talk: A Q&A with Providers Supporting Military Families

Field Talk is a monthly blog post sharing the voices of early childhood providers who serve or have served military families of young children with disabilities (birth to 5 years old).  We hope you find it to be educational, personable, and encouraging.

This month we welcome Ellen Argo, PT.  Ellen works at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville, TN .  This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Describe your current role.

I am a Physical Therapist, and currently work as an Assistant Manager in the Pediatric Rehabilitation Department at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. Fifty percent of my job duties are administrative and 50% are in patient care, mainly in the Acute Care and NICU setting.

What’s your favorite part of your current job?

Interacting with patients and their families is by far my favorite part of my job.

Tell us about experiences you have had working with military families.

Although my current position is in an acute care setting, I have worked with military families in the outpatient setting as well. During the past 15 years, I worked with military families who have had children in the NICU, children who have had acute illnesses or injuries and are in the hospital, and children who need outpatient physical therapy due to congenital, chronic, or acute conditions or injuries. I have worked with children from birth to 21 years of age.

How did you find yourself working with military families?

I moved to Clarksville, TN, a “military town” due to its proximity to Ft. Campbell, and began working in a pediatric outpatient clinic in 2002. I transitioned to a job at Vanderbilt in 2003 and because of its nature as a major children’s hospital, I continued to work with military families and their children there. Since then I have worked in another outpatient pediatric setting in Clarksville, TN, and continued at Vanderbilt as well.

Describe a rewarding experience working with military families.

There are SO many that it’s hard to choose only one! I once worked in the NICU with a family whose baby was born prematurely and had several significant health issues. The father was deployed but when the baby was born and the health issues were apparent, the father was allowed to come home for a period of time. On the day before he was supposed to return overseas, he and the mother were visiting the baby in the hospital and they arrived as I was beginning the baby’s PT session for the day. I had the honor of getting to teach the father how to perform infant massage on his tiny daughter—and it was the first time he was able to hold her.

Describe a challenging experience working with military families.

Early in my career working with military families I found it challenging when I needed to help a family order equipment or orthotics. Negotiating the Tricare system was a little different than working with commercial insurance.

From your experience, how are military families similar and different from other types of families? How do you change your practice between families?

All families want the best for their children and will go to any length to get it. It seems to me that military families rely more on friends and other non-family relationships for assistance with “life.” With deployments and trainings, frequently families often have only one parent or neither parent present and able to participate in therapy sessions. The internet and other technological advances have made it possible for the parent who is not present physically to participate in other ways such as videos of activities for caregivers to do at home with a child or “Skyping” to discuss a child’s progress.

As providers, how can we support military parents who are deployed or away frequently due to trainings/school?

It is important to remember that as providers it is not our job to tell families what to do, but rather, to help educate families so that they can make the best decisions for their children and families. The work of PT does not happen in the clinic or during the PT session-it happens at home, when the family is playing with, caring for, or otherwise interacting with their child. As providers it is imperative that we avoid judging families who are not able to follow through with our recommendations and work with the families to identify barriers and create recommendations that work within the family structure.

Describe a specific stressor that military families with whom you have worked have shared or experienced.

One stressor of deployments is the knowledge that the family members at home may or may not have regarding the deployed family member’s safety and when contact is infrequent and/or limited. I remember one occasion when a pre-teen patient arrived at the clinic for physical therapy with her mom, who was visibly distressed. As we began the session, the mother discreetly explained to me that earlier in the day she had received a call from the father, who was deployed. She explained that he had been with his unit earlier in the day when it was attacked. There had been one fatality and several injuries, although the father was not physically injured. The father had called to alert the family that he was ok, but he couldn’t talk on the phone for long or give more information. The mother chose to bring her child to PT to maintain a sense of “normalcy” for her and the child, but the stress of the situation clearly had an impact on the child’s performance that day.

What “insider” tips or advice do you have for service providers working with military families who have young children with disabilities?

Become educated about the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) and develop rapport with someone at the EFMP program. That was invaluable for me.

If you could change or improve one thing for military families with young children with disabilities, what would it be?

At Vanderbilt I work with numerous providers, many who do not understand the challenges faced by military families. I would love if non-military providers had more information so they could understand the challenges and rewards of military life. The MFLN blog is a great opportunity!

What types of resources have you sought out to feel more confident and competent at meeting the specific needs of military families? (e.g., trainings, blog posts, organizations, etc.)

I have worked to develop rapport with people who are on staff with Educational and Developmental Intervention Services (EDIS) and EFMP.

This post was written by Robyn DiPietro-Wells & Michaelene Ostrosky, PhD, members of the MFLN FD Early Intervention team, which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter, YouTube, and on LinkedIn.

VLE 2 | From Coercion to Collaboration – Presenter Interview

Enjoy this interview with Dr. Adrienne Baggs, PhD., a presenter for the MFLN Family Development October 2015 Virtual Learning Event Session 2 | From Coercion to Collaboration: Strength-Based Interventions for Military Couples Experiencing Domestic Violence. Find out more about VLE 2 at our Learn Event Page:

Like what you heard here? Join us on October 15, 2015 from 11:00am to 12:30pm for VLE Session 2.

For more information on MFLN Family Development’s October 2015 Virtual Learning Event check out our VLE website, here.

Can Maternal Care Protect Those With a History of Childhood Sexual Abuse from Military Sexual Trauma?

By Caitlin Hunter and Heidi Radunovich, PhD

Military Personnel's hand with teal ribbon symbolizing sexual assault survivors
Creative Commons Licensing [Flickr, 140402-A-OP735-271, April 2, 2014] retrieved on September 10, 2015
Survivors of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) often have high rates of posttraumatic stress disorder and other psychiatric problems. However, according to attachment theory, caretaker response (especially maternal response) to the needs of their child can greatly influence future adjustment, even in the case of traumatic childhood events. But can high levels of maternal care following child sexual abuse serve as a protective factor in the event of MST in adulthood?

A study of 197 veterans previously deployed to Afghanistan/Iraq, 86% of whom served in the Army, found approximately 21% of participants reported experiencing sexual abuse in childhood, and 14% reported MST [1]. Results suggested that veterans who experienced sexual abuse in childhood were more likely than non-abused veterans to experience MST. However, childhood sexual abuse only showed a significant association with MST when maternal care during childhood was low. Among veterans who experienced childhood sexual abuse, rates of reported MST were significantly higher among those who reported low levels of maternal care (43%) compared with those who reported high levels of maternal care (11%).

The major finding of this study is that higher levels of maternal care might serve as a protective factor for those at risk for MST based on a history of child sexual abuse. However, the presence of child sexual abuse and low levels of maternal care might be indicative of an overall adverse childhood environment, with multiple risk factors that could contribute to victimization in adulthood. Veterans who reported childhood sexual abuse and high levels of maternal care might have been brought up in an environment with less risk factors for future victimization.

Overall, this research highlights the importance of improving relationships between parents and children, particularly in situations involving child abuse. Of course, while maintaining supportive relationships is necessary in healing after a traumatic event, it is also critical to focus on ways to prevent sexual abuse from occurring at all, both during childhood and in the military setting.


[1] Wilson, L. C., Kimbrel, N. A., Meyer, E. C., Young, K. A., & Morissette, S. B. (2015). Do child abuse and maternal care interact to predict military sexual trauma? Journal of Clinical Psychology71(4), 378-386. doi: 10.1002/jclp.22143

This post was written by Caitlin Hunter  & Heidi Radunovich, PhD, members of the MFLN Family Development (FD) team which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter, YouTube, and on LinkedIn.

Virtual Learning Event October 2015 – Session 2

VLE 2 | From Coercion to Collaboration: Strength- Based Interventions for Military Couples Experiencing Domestic Violence

Session 2

Date: October 15, 2015

Time: 11:00am – 12:30pm Eastern



Adrienne Baggs, PhD. and Bridgette Schossow, MA, LPC, CACII,  will explore common approaches to working with domestic violence but also introduce how they intersect with a strength-based treatment model. Presenters will provide case study examples to further highlight the techniques shared.

MFLN Family Development’s Virtual Learning Event (VLE) will host a professional development training session on October 8th, 15th, 22nd, and 29th. For more information about upcoming VLE sessions, click here.

We offer 1.5 National Association of Social Worker (NASW) and Georgia Marriage & Family Therapy CE credits for each of our professional development training sessions, click here to learn more.

For more information on future presentations in the 2015 Family Development webinar series, please visit our professional development website or connect with us via social media for announcements: (Facebook Twitter)

Family Development Early Intervention Ask the Expert Vlog – Supporting Families During Deployment

Recently the FD Early Intervention team was able to sit down with Carol M. Trivette, PhD., an associate professor at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, TN.   In this short video she shares her thoughts on how early interventionists can best support military families facing deployment.

Carol says, “Deployment can be a time of stress for families and when there is a child with a disability, it can be even more stressful. However you can reduce some of this stress by helping a parent identify successful strategies that were used in the past and new strategies the parent might want to try during the upcoming deployment. Taking the time to really listen to what a parent wants to share about previous deployment experiences including who helped, how daily routines and activities were accomplished as well as what challenges they encountered is an key first step in supporting families through this experience.”

Carol M. Trivette, PhD earned her degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in Child Development and Family Relations. She provided direct supports to children with disabilities and their families in home-base programs and in classrooms and was the director of an early intervention program. During most of her career, she has also been involved in applied research. Her research interests focus on identifying evidence-based practices for working with children and families in the areas of responsive parental interactions with their children with disabilities, children’s early language and literacy development, family-centered practices and family support, and the development of tools and scales to support the implementation of evidence-based practices with fidelity. She is currently an Associate Professor at East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, TN, where she works mainly with doctoral students focused on enhancing their research skills.

This post was written by Robyn DiPietro-Wells & Amy Santos, PhD, members of the MFLN FD Early Intervention team, which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter, YouTube, and on LinkedIn.


Consumer Fraud & Military Families

By Dr. Martie Gillen

The term consumer fraud is used widely to cover sales that are both legal and illegal. This includes fraud for which sellers could be prosecuted in civil or criminal courts and practices that are not necessarily illegal, such as charging exorbitant prices. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) deceptive acts are generally interpreted as those that are not reasonably avoidable by consumers, manifest a tendency to mislead, and cause a substantial number of consumers to suffer in a material way. The FTC tracks all types of consumer fraud.

Likely fueled by increased use of the Internet for making financial transactions, fraud complaints have sharply increased over the last decade. In fact, according to the FTC’s 2014 Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book over 1.5 million fraud related complaints were filed in 2014. While only 55% of consumers who reported a complaint also reported the amount paid the total cost to those consumers was over $1.7 billion. The median amount was $498.

In 2012, Dr. Gillen presented a 90-minute webinar on Financial Frauds & Scams. View the recording of this webinar below.

Military consumers reported over 87,000 (U.S. Army 42,315, U.S. Navy 18,268, U.S. Air Force 16,691, U.S. Marines $8,568, and U.S. Coast Guard 1,558) fraud complaints in 2014. The most common status among military consumers who reported a fraud complaint was retiree and/or veteran (66%) followed by dependent spouse of an active duty services member (13%).

Among military consumers, the most common reported fraud complaint was identity theft (27%) followed by imposter scams (26%), debt collection (8%), banks and lenders (5%), prizes, sweepstakes, and lotteries (3%), shop-at-home and catalog sales (2%), education (2%), telephone and mobile services (2%), auto related complaints (2%), credit bureaus, information furnishers and report users (1%), foreign money offers and counterfeit check scams (1%), internet services ( 1%), credit cards (1%), health care (1%), grants (1%), computer equipment and software (1%), mortgage foreclosure relief and debt management (1%), business and job opportunities (1%), television and electronic media (1%), and advance payments for credit services (<1%).

The most frequent way a military fraud victim’s information was misused was government documents or benefits fraud (45%) followed by credit card fraud (17%), phone or utilities fraud (13%), bank fraud (10%), and loan fraud (4%).

The FTC provides a great deal of information on how military families can protect themselves from from fraud. 

This post was written by Dr. Martie Gillen. Follow her on Twitter @MoneyMattersMG

Upcoming webinar: Family Transitions & Financial Changes

By Molly C. Herndon

Join the Personal Finance and Family Transitions teams for a collaborative webinar on Tuesday, October 13 at 11 a.m. ET. Dr. Barbara O’Neill and PhD Candidate, Jennifer Rea, will present a 90-minute webinar on Military Family Financial Transitions: Handling Changes to Income, Benefits and Money Management.

Created on by Molly Herndon
Created on by Molly Herndon

The two concentration areas are joining forces to best present the common problems that arise when military families leaving the military. Dr. O’Neill will focus on the financial issues while Ms. Rea will concentrate on the familial problems that are common during these times of transition.

The interactive nature of this webinar will offer many opportunities for webinar participants to offer their experience, via the webinar chat pod,  working with clients who are transitioning and share the resource they have used. Please join us to share with your colleagues!

This webinar will offer 1.5 CEUs for AFC-credentialed and CPFC-credentialed participants. Others who join the webinar that are uninterested in the financial continuing education units can earn a Certificate of Completion.

Created on by Molly Herndon
Created on by Molly Herndon

We will keep the conversation going on this topic when we meet for a Twitter Chat on Wednesday, Oct. 21 at 1 p.m. ET. Are you new to Twitter and interested in getting started? Follow along in the Step-by-Step Guide for Getting Started on Twitter to create a user name and bio line. If you’re interested in testing the waters before our chat on Oct. 21, you can join one of the many ongoing Personal Finance Twitter Chats that happen each week. These provide a good opportunity for Twitter newbies to “watch” and listen to what happens during a Twitter chat, and of course, chime in with your expertise!

Please join us for this exciting webinar on Tuesday, October 13, at 11 a.m. ET. Register, find supporting resources and join the webinar all through this link.