Children with disabilities suffer ‘severe neglect and abuse’ in Australian schools

Government report reveals a third have been restrained or secluded, and half have been bullied in past year

A third of all children with disability have been restrained or secluded at school while half have been bullied in the past year, according to a government-funded report that reveals “severe neglect and abuse” of young people and calls for “special schools” to be phased out.

The report, released by Children And Young People With Disability Australia (CYDA) on Monday, collated the experiences of more than 500 students and their families from a national survey.

Families reported cases including an 11-year-old child with a disability being suicidal, another under 12 hiding from school bullies in a rubbish bin, and a child between seven and nine years old who was “left briefly in a hot school taxi and felt scared that he couldn’t get out”

Mary Sayers, the CYDA chief executive, said the report uncovered children with disabilities were regularly bullied by other students, and at times by school staff, as well as the common use of restrictive practices.

“The overarching message we have from the survey is that there is severe abuse and neglect of students with disability in school,” she told Guardian Australia.

Nearly half (48.2%) of students with disability experienced bullying at school in the past year, including 9.1% who said school staff had been the bullies.

The use of restraints and seclusion was reported by nearly a third of respondents (30%). Most commonly, students were physically restrained, but a small number of families also reported the use of chemical restraints.

About one in five children with a disability had been placed in seclusion, such as solitary confinement with and without supervision in a room, classroom or staff office.

“Often schools we hear are using this as a behaviour management technique, rather than actually looking at, well, ‘What would it take to have this child included in the classroom?” Sayers told Guardian Australia. “What it points to is that schools need to really be committed to inclusive education.”

In 2015, news that schools in Canberra were using metal cages to detain students with autism provoked national outrage.

The report found 40% of students with disabilities had been excluded from events or activities, while 15.5% of students who attended a mainstream school said they were separated from peers in a special unit, either permanently or at times.

In addition, about 15% of students with disabilities had been suspended from school and 12.5% of parents said their children been refused enrolment, the survey found.

One family of a young child in rural Western Australia told the survey: “I applied to 36 schools in WA, have attended four, which two have removed him and three would not meet his needs and assaulted him.”

Another said their child had been suspended 60 out of 150 days in the first three terms last year.

Sayers called for the government to adopt a national inclusive education plan that would phase out special schools and separated classrooms/units within mainstream schools.

Under the plan, teaching students would also take a mandatory semester subject at university to train them to better work with students with disabilities.

It comes as the royal commission into violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability prepares to hold its first public hearings in early November.

The commission is expected to examine issues raised in the report.


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