Education Officials Defend Use Of Wire Cage For Boy
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
February 10, 2004
PERTH, AUSTRALIA -- School officials called it a "quiet garden" or "withdrawal facility" for an 11-year-old boy "to let off steam and calm down in a way in which he could retain his dignity".
The boy's grandmother and guardian disagrees.
"It was a cage," Sheila Simons said of the small, fenced-in area where her grandson, Neil, spent much of his time over the past 18 months.
The mesh fence enclosure was built specifically for the boy, who has a disability similar to autism. It was installed behind the Kenwick School, a segregated facility serving children with intellectual disabilities, after a behavioral expert at Murdoch University advised the school to construct a "timeout" area for Neil.
"When I saw it I just cried. I cry every time I think of it," Simons told The Age news service.
"Neil was absolutely hysterical . . . He was saying, 'Mummy help me, Mummy help me'. I thought, what the hell are they doing to him?"
Records kept by Neil's teachers showed that between October 10, 2002 and this past fall the boy was placed in the enclosure -- sometimes nearly every day -- for periods up to 80 minutes at a time. The notes report that he sometimes urinated and defecated in the small grassy area which had no toilet facilities, and often injured himself trying to climb out.
The Western Australia Department of Education defended the use of such "low stimulation areas" for changing the behavior of some children.
"Cage is your term, and we'll be looking into this but I can tell you ... it is part of the policy that low stimulation areas be used where children with extremely challenging behaviour can be withdrawn for short periods of time," said John Brigg, the state's assistant director of student services.
Leila Bothams, the school district's director, also defended the practice by pointing to the outcome.
"It was a successful strategy," Bothams said.
The enclosure, which was the size of a small room surrounded by a 3.5 meter (11.5 foot) high fence, has since been dismantled.
School and state officials have refused to assure that similar enclosures will not be built in the future.
"Fury over schoolboy locked in cage" (News Interactive)