By Catia Malaquias

The opening statement is that restraint and seclusion should have no place in Australian schools.

The Victorian Education Department has announced that it will commence releasing data on the number of times that restraint and seclusion practices are applied in Victorian schools as a measure intended to promote positive behaviour support and reduce the excessive use of these dangerous and counter-productive practices – practices that have been stated by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to constitute torture.

But although the public position of the Victorian Education Department is a clear step in the right direction, the substantiveness of the change it signals depends on cultural change in the schools that have come to rely upon and to practice restraint in all its counter socio-emotional forms – particularly special school environments.

There is poor internal government data across Australia on the use of restraints and seclusion in schooling, let alone public data.

The difficulty in applying policies and even legislative requirements for the disclosure of the use of restraints and seclusion in quasi-institutionalised settings without cultural reform is made clear in the South Australian’s Chief Psychiatrist’s report on the now disgraced Oakden aged and mental care facility:

“All mental health units in SA have been asked to enter their incidents of restraint and seclusion on a standalone database using the agreed national definitions of restrictive practices since 2009.

Although the Starface and Lilly report … [into Oakden], noted the excessive use of mechanical restraint in 2008, the significance and seriousness of the excessive rate does not appear to have been understood by any staff at Oakden.

After that time, there were only four reports of restraint recorded at Oaken between 1 July 2009 and 30 June 2013. It is entirely implausible to believe that Oakden went from a situation of excessive Mechanical Restraint at the time of the 2008 report, to almost no restraint without any strategy to achieve such a reduction, only to return to an extreme rate in 2014. The Review rejects this as a possibility.

Instead, the Review has no doubt that the rate of restraint remained high (and unacceptable) from at the latest 2008, but in all likelihood at any time from the past until the present.

The under-reporting that occurred until 2014, represents a significant failure to appreciate the seriousness of restraint as stated by the UN and as agreed in Australia both in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and also as a National Safety priority in mental health.

It is as though Oakden believed these issues did not apply to them, when the reality is: they applied more than in any setting in SA.

From 1 July 2013, reporting of restraint and seclusion was moved from the standalone database to the Safety Learning System (SLS) and the then Chief Psychiatrist issued under section 90(2) of the Mental Health Act 2009 a standard on reporting restraint and seclusion. This made reporting all forms of restraint and seclusion mandatory.

Despite this mandatory requirement the reporting from Oakden was almost non-existent until a clarification from the then Chief Psychiatrist … . Put another way despite a legislated requirement Oakden did not comply with mandatory reporting requirements.  It was as if Oakden simply believed that rules did not apply to them, and they had no interest in what was considered a mainstream and sector wide safety priority.” [pp. 105-107]

The danger in not parallel-processing the necessary cultural change, is that a threatened culture becomes even more insular and even less accountable – with disastrous potential – as realised at Oakden – now the subject of multiple governmental inquiries and counting.

[Cover photo © Alexander Lam]

Thank you for visiting our website.  You can also keep up with our mission by liking our Facebook page or following us on Twitter @StartingWJulius