Disabled children confined in Victorian schools

Children with disabilities at Victorian schools are being placed in solitary confinement and physically restrained in breach of their human rights, according to parents and disability advocates.

The Office of the Public Advocate, which protects the rights of people with a disability, is calling for the use of restrictive interventions in schools to be regulated as a matter of priority.

It says restrictive interventions to control behaviour – which can include physical restraint such as force, mechanical restraint such as straps, the use of drugs and seclusion – constitute a significant incursion on a person’s liberty.

A report by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission last year said 514 educators reported having used restraint. Thirty-four parents reported the use of restraint on their child at school and 128 parents reported their children had been placed in ‘’special rooms’’ (other than time-out rooms) as a behaviour management technique.

“My child has been taped to chairs, roped to get out of trees, has been locked in rooms and out of the classroom, he has been locked in the principal’s office for hours even when (the principal) was having meetings, he has been held down, he has been grabbed by the back of the neck and pulled to the ground, he has been in holds,” one parent told the commission.

The commission said it was impossible to test these claims because there was no official data, but a number of the descriptions would constitute a breach of human rights.

“In Victorian educational settings, there is a lack of legislative or policy guidance around the use of restrictive interventions,’’ the Office of the Public Advocate says in a position statement. 

“There is no independent oversight or monitoring of the use of seclusion and restraint and there is no legal requirement for a teacher or school in Victoria to report the use of restrictive interventions, other than in the case of the use of physical force.”

Public Advocate Colleen Pearce said there had been a significant reduction in the use of restraint against adults with disabilities in residential settings, following the introduction of the Disability Act in 2006, which limited how and when they could be used.

“Why is it that children who are already vulnerable don’t have the same sorts of safeguards in place as adults with disabilities? The education department needs to invest in more training for teachers who are working with children who display particularly challenging behaviours to help them find alternatives to restraint,” Ms Pearce said.

Shadow parliamentary education secretary Colin Brooks said he was astounded the government hadn’t bothered to address the commission’s recommendations. 

“There is now a chorus of independent voices calling for the same thing,’’ he said.

A spokesman for Education Minister Martin Dixon said the department was continuing to consider the recommendations. “The department has also initiated discussions with a consultant, who will provide updated guidance on the use of restraint, to improve the understanding by staff of policy,” the spokesman said.

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