Wednesday, 6 November 2019
Education (Student and Parent Charter) Bill 2019: Committee Stage
I thank the Minister for his response. Before I say whether I will press these amendments, I would like to know more about the working group that is looking into the issue of restraint and seclusion. I ask the Minister to give that information to me now, or between now and Report Stage. The parents I have been supporting are concerned about the use of exclusion in some circumstances in special schools that were set up specifically to work with kids who have extra needs. Parents in one school have told me about the use of what they would describe as a cupboard with some sensory stuff put on the wall, which had been empty a few weeks previously. We are talking about children who need to have Asperger's syndrome or autism meltdowns. I am not sure whether the Minister has ever seen a child having an autism meltdown. It is something I am very familiar with. I am concerned that staff in schools which have been set up specifically to work with certain children try to restrain those children when they use their normal tools to regulate their emotions. Specific things are required to support a child during an autism meltdown and to make him or her feel safe that he or she will not be harmed. If school staff can stay the course for the few minutes - it could be ten minutes - that an Asperger's syndrome or autism meltdown lasts, the child will come out the other end in a much more relieved and regulated space. The problem is that children in many schools are being punished for using their natural tools for the regulation of their emotions. Their feelings may have been triggered by the sensory stuff they took in during a particular moment.
I will not name the schools where staff have pulled children into isolation rooms and left them there on their own and in fear. Those who work in a school where children have certain ways of coping should recognise that those children should not be excluded for doing the very things that help them to get on with their school day. The working group can look at the techniques involved in obvious restraints, but I am concerned that some of the more underhand stuff might not come out with a working group. I wonder what kind of engagement is happening between parents and the working group. Some parents are sending their kids to school every day even though they are uncomfortable with the practices at the school. They may have waited a year for a place in the school. They are wondering whether their children are going to be punished - perhaps by being locked away in a room - for displaying a behaviour that is very normal to the condition they have. They have no option other then to send them back there every day. As a mother, I cannot imagine the impossible situation they have been put in. I wonder what kind of engagement is happening with parents who are in this position. They are not speaking publicly at present because they are afraid that their children will lose their school places. There should be an avenue for parents to provide more concrete and specific examples of the use of isolation rooms. Some of these rooms are being reframed as sensory rooms. They were not set up as sensory rooms. They are literally isolation rooms. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that. I am happy to withdraw these amendments on the basis that there will be further engagement between now and Report Stage.