4 Nov 2016

Ministry accused of cop-out on seclusion rooms

5:40 pm on 4 November 2016

Disability provider IHC says the Ministry of Education needs to act and shut down seclusion rooms, not simply say it is "working" with schools.

Seclusion room

The Ministry of Education will not say whether there are still some schools using the rooms. Photo: 123RF

Education Minister Hekia Parata announced yesterday that seclusion rooms would be banned in schools under new laws proposed by the government.

Today, the ministry would not confirm or deny whether two schools were still using the rooms.

The move to make the rooms illegal follows revelations some schools have been placing disruptive children in locked, small, cell-like rooms.

Ms Parata told Parliament last month a Ministry of Education review found eight special schools had seclusion rooms.

A response to written questions by the Green Party has now revealed only six of the schools have agreed to stop using them.

RNZ understands the two schools in question were residential schools that operated 24/7.

IHC's Trish Grant said the response was a cop-out.

"I'm concerned that the ministry is using phrases like 'working with the schools'. I think the minister herself said this was intolerable and needs to stop now."

It was nonsense to blame the delay in shutting down the seclusion rooms on the high and complex needs of children, Ms Grant said.

Plenty of research showed other ways to deal with high-needs children without locking them away, she said.

Law to come into force next year

Legislation to make seclusion rooms illegal had been included into an existing bill which was making its way through the House.

This meant the law might not come into force until next year.

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft said, in the meantime, the rooms must be decommissioned immediately.

"Without underestimating the difficulty of the challenges of volatile young people, the answer has got to be desist now, stop now.

"I don't think this is a phase-out situation, this is a cease and desist situation."

The Ministry of Education has yet to report back on its review, which investigated the number of non-special schools that had or were using seclusion rooms.

What about the other two schools?

Ministry of Education Head of Special Education David Wales said these schools worked with children with some of the highest and most complex needs in the country, and staff constantly dealt with difficult and highly stressful situations.

"A small number, eight, told us they were using seclusion, and we have been working with them further to look closely at their practices," Dr Wales said.

"Of those, two turned out not to be using seclusion, a further four have discontinued the practice, and we are still working with the remaining two schools to discuss their practice and to establish how that fits in with the new guidance," he said.

Green MP Catherine Delahunty said the ministry response begged the question - what about the other two?

"All of us want to know that the rooms are not being used," she said.

"The minister needs to immediately decommission the usage of the seclusion rooms until we can get the law change she has announced," she said.

New Zealand First MP Tracey Martin said other schools, like the Salisbury residential school near Nelson, had not used seclusion rooms.

"They immediately took off all the doors in 2011 and said, 'we're not doing this anymore, we're working out a better way'," she said.

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