Tighter management of restraints used in schools

Sep 6, 2015 by

Schools physically restraining students or placing them in solitary confinement will have to explain themselves to the state government under a new initiative.

Teachers will be required to report every occasion it is thought necessary to restrain or seclude a child to control their behaviour.

The state government has also appointed a new officer to work with schools to observe, review and improve the way they respond to children with behavioural issues.

Education Minister James Merlino said the observer – known as a  principal practice leader – would report to the Senior Practitioner, a position with powers under the Disability Act  to protect the rights of the disabled, to reduce the use of restrictive practices in schools.

These include physical restraint such as force, mechanical restraint such as straps, and seclusion, which involves confining someone to a locked room.

Mr Merlino said physical restraint and seclusion should only used when it is is immediately required to protect the safety of students or anyone else in the school.

“It is absolutely the last resort and it is important that we are aware as a community how often these instances happen,” he said.

The officer will spend time in schools and provide them with guidance around the controversial practices.

“The experienced and dedicated practice leader is ideally placed to gain an insight into the issues around restraint in Victorian schools, and improve culture and practices,” Mr Merlino said.

Disability advocates and parents have repeatedly raised concerns about the use of restrictive interventions in school, saying it breaches a child’s human rights.

A 2012 Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission report revealed that 514 educators reported having used restraint.

Thirty-four parents said their child had been restrained at school and 128 parents reported their children had been placed in “special rooms” to control their behaviour.

Australian Education Union Victorian branch president Meredith Peace welcomed the appointment, saying schools needed training to support children with challenging behaviours.

“Our schools deal with a very diverse range of kids, some who have challenging behaviours and they lack both needs-based funding and the training to adequately meet the needs of our students.”

Parents Victoria executive officer Gail McHardy welcomed the announcement and said she hoped the officer ensured schools were aware of tactics to “negate the need for any physical restriction in schools.”

Tracey Hayes, whose twin boys were strapped in a stroller and chairs at a Victorian special school, said restrictive intervention should never be used.

She discovered her autistic sons were being restrained at school after their teachers sent her photos.

“I was horrified. You don’t do that to anyone. If I did that to my children at home the police would have me charged so why is it any different in schools?”

But disability advocate Julie Phillips said the reforms did not go far enough.

“There is gaping hole legally for  students with disabilities. Staff should be provided with mandatory requirements to support children with disabilities in a positive way before resorting to restraint.”

The state government said the appointment delivered on a key election commitment. It is also reviewing funding for students with a disability.

Source: Tighter management of restraints used in schools

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