A report in today’s Oz about the treatment meted out to 12 year old intellectually disabled (and autistic) child Neil Simons by his WA school:
A PERTH grandmother is waging a fierce battle with the state Education Department after discovering her 12-year-old intellectually disabled grandson was repeatedly locked in an outdoor caged enclosure at school.
Sheila Simons recently won her fight to have the enclosure removed from Kenwick School but is still pushing for the principal and teacher involved to be stood down, and a formal apology from the department.
Ms Simons, who has been Neil’s guardian since he was a toddler, said she was horrified when she first saw the enclosure.
“It was a cage. When I saw it I just cried. I cry every time I think of it. Neil was absolutely hysterical,” she said.
“He was saying, ‘Mummy help me, Mummy help me’. I thought, what the hell are they doing to him?”
The enclosure an area of grass the size of a small room surrounded by a 3.5m-high wire fence backing on to a demountable building had been purpose-built for Neil. It had a wooden bench but no toilet nor access to water.
Managing intellectually disabled and behaviourally disturbed children isn’t easy, and may well require resort to appropriate forms of physical restraint and withdrawal/isolation from other children on occasion, but you’d be hard-pressed to argue that locking a kid up in an outdoor cage for prolonged periods with no water or toilet facilities is even remotely appropriate. In fact it’s child abuse, and a severe form thereof. Why aren’t WA child welfare authorities investigating activities at this school? Mightn’t other children be getting treated in an equally appalling manner?
It all brings back my own days as a 5 year old in a NSW public school kindergarten in the late 1950s. One of the other kids in my kindie class was a little boy named Sid Dawson. Incidentally, Sid was the nephew of renowned Australian baritone Peter Dawson, but that’s irrelevant to this story. Sid was an unholy little terror in class, frequently disruptive and with the attention span of a gnat. When I was much older I learned the reason: Sid was only barely 4 years old, and had been allowed to enrol long before the normal school commencement age (which was 5).
Sid undoubtedly presented a serious management problem for our class teacher Mrs Hilton. This was the peak of the baby boom, and the school’s resources were stretched to the limit. Class sizes averaged close to 40, and our class (and many others) was taught in a hastily erected tin demountable classroom. There were no teacher’s aides or other ancillary staff. If Mrs Hilton sent Sid out of the room when he was naughty and disruptive (which was much of the time), he was likely to disappear for the rest of the day. Allowing a four year old child to roam around the wilds of Sydney suburbia all day unsupervised might well have opened the school to legal action by the Dawson family, even in those less litigious days.
However, the solution Mrs Hilton fixed on was arguably even worse. Like most kindie classes then (and now, for that matter), all us kids would have a nap in the early afternoon. The classroom was equipped with sleeping mats, which were stored in a large wooden box with a hinged lid. It looked quite a lot like a coffin. Whenever Sid misbehaved, Mrs Hilton locked him in the mat box for half an hour or so. If they’d done it to me I know I would have kicked and screamed and literally gone psychotic: I’m more than a tad claustrophobic (and always have been). By contrast, Sid never made a noise while locked in the box, and was usually quiet for an hour or so after he was released. God knows what it did to this tiny child’s mind, though.
I don’t remember what happened to Sid after that. He was never in my class again after kindie, and I have no memory of him even being at the school. Maybe his family moved away. Maybe he was sent to a school for behaviourally disturbed children, like the one poor Neil Simons attends. Maybe they locked Sid in a cage too, where the other kids chucked rocks at him.
Update – the WA government must be feeling the heat: – the Minister has announced an “investigation” into the cage affair!