New watchdog to monitor 'restrictive practices' in ACT schools

Minister Stephen-Smith talking

Steven Trask

A new watchdog position has been established in the ACT to oversee the use of restrictive practices by schools and disabilities services.

Restrictive practices are defined as any measure that restricts the "freedom of movement of a person for the primary purpose of protecting the person or others from harm".

Legislation establishing the position comes in the wake of a scandal revealed in 2015, in which a 10-year-old boy with autism was placed in a blue cage inside a Canberra school.

The "senior practicioner" role will help phase out the use of restrictive practices, as well as providing guidance and advice, Youth Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said.

"We know that restrictive practices are more likely to be used in response to the behaviours of some of the most vulnerable people in our community – people with disability, older people, people living with psychosocial disability and children and young people," she said.

"The bill enables greater protection from the unnecessary use of restrictive practices by establishing a formal protection and oversight mechanism for the ACT."

The new laws would only apply to schools and disability services providers, and would not cover restrictive practices used by families or informal carers.

"It does not apply to families or informal carers for the person. Nor does it seek to regulate reasonable
action to monitor and protect a child from harm.

"For example, holding a child’s hand while crossing a road, or putting a fence around a school or childcare centre."

The bulk of the new laws were proposed to come into place in June 2019, although Ms Stephen-Smith said the senior practitioner would likely start in September.