Physical restraint rules signal a new attitude
New rules about using physical restraint at school are a huge step in the right direction.
Since changes were made to the Education and Training Act last year, schools can use physical restraint on students only when there are no other options to keep everyone
To make sure there’s no confusion about this, a group of advisors has been working on practical guidance for schools about when physical restraint can be used to better protect children and young people from harm.
IHC Advocate Shara Turner was a member of the Physical Restraint Advisory Group of parents and education sector and disability sector representatives working with the Ministry of Education. The group has come up with rules and guidelines that are now open for public feedback.
“I am hoping that they are useful and that they really shift attitudes,” Shara says. “It’s just about a shift in attitude from, that child is naughty, to that child has a disability-related behaviour and we should try to support them.”
IHC wants these guidelines to be the first step towards having no physical restraint used in schools. Last year, in submissions on the law change, IHC Director of Advocacy Trish Grant called on the Government to move away from using force in schools towards de-escalation techniques.
“The Human Rights Commission has just published a report that identifies the alarmingly high rates of violence experienced by disabled people. IHC has advocated for a specific lens on the violence people with intellectual/learning disability experience in their lives,” Trish says. “Research evidence
confirms that many people with intellectual disability fear speaking up about violence, abuse and neglect and the negative consequence of doing so.
“New Zealand has goals to eliminate restraint for adults held in places of detention. IHC has questioned why the same goal is not in place for disabled children and young people and asserts that in some cases the uses of restraint are examples of state-sanctioned violence.”
Shara says it has been difficult to hear parents talk about the emotional impact of having a child restrained. “A child who is in a state to be restrained is in huge distress and is trying to tell you something.”
‘She says it is smaller children who are more likely to be restrained; teachers are unwilling to intervene physically with older students. “You are 60 times more likely to be restrained in a special school.”
Under changes recommended by the advisory group, schools must develop support plans for students who are at greater risk of physical restraint. Informed parental consent would be required if the use of physical restraint were attached to a child’s support plan.
Schools would have to provide parents with a reasonable opportunity to attend a debrief after an incident when physical restraint has been used. Schools would be required to tell parents how the incident was managed in this debrief, rather than the initial notification. This would make it easier for schools to notify parents/caregivers as soon as possible.
Physical restraint incident reports would have to state who reported the incident of physical restraint. This is to help show the extent to which staff using physical restraint are aware of their actions and their responsibility to report it. If a student has learning support needs, this information
would help in monitoring the use of physical restraint involving this population. It would be an interim solution until physical restraint reporting can be linked to the standardised Learning Support Register.
The changes would allow future reporting through schools’ student management systems to make the process simpler for schools.
All teachers and authorised staff members would have to complete online training in identifying stress triggers, understanding unmet needs and preventing, minimising and responding to student distress. The aim would be not to use physical restraint except as a last resort.
Teachers who are at higher risk of needing to use physical restraint, and all authorised staff members who are not teachers, would need to be trained in appropriate physical holds.
Submissions are open until 31 March 2022.
Above: A step in the right direction – IHC says the new physical restraint guidelines should be the first step towards having no physical restraint in schools. Photograph by Kuanish Reymbaev on Unsplash
This story was published in Strong Voices. The magazine is posted free to all IHC members.
Download PDF of Strong Voices issue