Thursday, February 10, 2005

Unruly School kids locked away

QLD: TROUBLED Queensland school children are being locked in small rooms by teachers unable to cope with their severe, violent and aggressive outbursts.

Disruptive children are placed in small "cool-down tanks" and released only after they have calmed down.

The practice has been described by one parent as akin to solitary confinement.

To prevent injury to the special needs children during the "time out" procedure, rooms can be opened from the outside only and are smooth-walled inside to prevent children from injuring themselves.

The first of the rooms were converted from unused space such as storage areas around three years ago but purpose-built facilities are now being constructed around the state.

A department spokesman at first denied the existence of the rooms but later admitted they were in at least a third of the state's 40 special schools and 100 special education units.

The rooms form part of the Education Department's duty of care policy for the most violent or aggressive special needs children - usually those specifically diagnosed with behavioural problems, intellectual disabilities and autism.

"Time out is usually implemented when students risk injuring themselves, other students, school staff or members of the public and can be secured to ensure the student's own safety. They are only used as a last resort," the spokesman said.

Queensland University educational psychology lecturer Dr Deb Keen said while there was merit in removing children from areas of sensory overload there was a general movement away from the use of time-out procedures.

"It is a pretty typical parenting technique but it is seen as a form of punishment and the thought is moving to less punitive measures for the very small group of children who display it. It is a vexing area," Dr Keen said.

A teacher, who would not be identified, said colleagues were emotionally torn as they abhorred placing children in the rooms but recognised that safety of others was the first priority.

Education Minister Anna Bligh said providing an education for some children was a challenge with "some extreme cases very difficult for both families and staff".

By Jason Gregory posted 10 February 05