Child Abuse and Maltreatment Prevention through Safety Skill Development

The issue

Child abuse and maltreatment is a significant concern for deaf and hard of hearing children due to high incidences of language deprivation (i.e. lack of access to language since birth) and lack of access to incidental learning (i.e. learning that occurs from overhearing conversations and media). When children are unable to effectively communicate about daily experiences and lack access to information about healthy behavior and boundaries, risk factors for abuse increase significantly. Children with disabilities noticeable to others, such as those who use sign language or wear amplification devices, are more likely to be targeted because there are assumptions made that the child cannot tell anyone what has occurred. Unfortunately, there are no known evidence-based interventions related to safety that have been developed with deaf and hard of hearing children in mind, and while some schools focus on social and emotional skills, the development of safety skills is not currently an explicitly-stated requirement for the Individual Education Plan.

What we know

There has been a significant amount of research published related to preventing child abuse and maltreatment by developing protective factors in the family. Protective factors currently addressed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention include supportive family environment and social networks, concrete support for basic needs, nurturing parenting skills, stable family relationships, household rules and child monitoring, parental employment, parental education, adequate housing, access to health care and social services, and caring adults outside the family who can serve as role models or mentors. While the majority of these services will occur outside of the school setting, schools do have the resources and responsibility to provide children with opportunities to develop language to communicate what is happening at home and the skills to protect themselves both physically and emotionally before, during, and after instances of abuse.

Teaching methods that have traditionally proven successful when used with deaf and hard of hearing students can be utilized to teach safety skills, and some safety curriculums, such as those published by Kidpower International (, already use evidence-based methods commonly used to teach deaf and hard of hearing students, such as read-alouds, role plays, behavioral practice, and explicit instruction.

What we don’t know

There has been little research conducted related to child safety prevention in deaf and hard of hearing children. While we know prevalence statistics and qualitative experiences of deaf adults, we don’t have information on the efficacy of tools and strategies specifically used for safety skill instruction. Unfortunately, this isn’t unique to the deaf and hard of hearing literature. The same limitation exists for the literature related to all types of disabilities and safety. Research about specific interventions is sparse across the board. Future research is needed focused on specific interventions with longitudinal studies documenting the generalizability of the safety skills to real safety situations students encounter after participating in the intervention.


Perhaps most important to teachers is the ability to seamlessly integrate safety skills into existing curriculum content, and to parents, the ability to integrate safety into home routines without scaring their children. While this can seem overwhelming, there are simple ways to address safety content in a variety of settings in relevant, fun ways.

For example, a favorite book of teachers and parents alike is “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury. In the book, children go on an adventure with an adult. They come to a cave and discover a bear inside. The adult and children run away from the bear. A simple way to integrate a safety skill with this book is to discuss the safety skill “running away from trouble” in conjunction with the story. Teachers can address a curriculum objective (e.g. retelling) through role play, which includes the behavioral practice of running away from trouble and to a safe adult. Parents can integrate this book with a bedtime story routine, with role play and practice giving children that last opportunity to shake out the energy.

This same routine can be applied to and integrated with many popular children’s books. For a list of 30 safety skills you can start integrating into the curriculum and home routines, go to For books and toys you can use to teach children about physical and emotional safety, go to The Child Safety Collaborative’s Resource Center (  The Child Safety Collaborative also offers weekly blog posts related to protective factors and child safety instruction.

Posted on December 18, 2020 by
Jennifer A.L. Johnson
University of North Texas

Further reading