School accused of locking kids in cages

CHILDREN with disabilities are allegedly being locked in cages without windows and other enclosures described as “cattle pens” while at school.

Bendigo Special Developmental School is being investigated by the Victorian education department after incidents were reported by staff members and parents.

Since October last year, disability advocate Julie Phillips has copped a number of complaints about children being treated like animals.

It has been alleged that students at Bendigo Special Developmental School were locked in cages made out of pool fencing that were about 1.5 metres tall and 1.8 metres squared.

“I’ve seen photographs of some of the structures used to lock children in,” Ms Phillips said.

“I call the cage-like structures small cattle pens and there was also one wooden one that was a horrific structure with no windows.

“I believe they have been taken down now — I don’t know when.”

Ms Phillips said she also received reports that staff members were receiving martial arts training to help them restrain students by using pressure points.

“I’ve had reports from parents who have visited the school and seen the disturbing treatment of kids,” she said.

“I’ve had reports about kids being tied to chairs and other general inhumane treatments.”

After receiving her first report about the incidents late last year, Ms Phillips wrote a letter to the education department’s regional director, who denied the allegations.

Ms Phillips said she heard horror stories about what happened to children at Bendigo, with one staff member telling her a child spent most of the year secluded in the cage-like structures.

“Apparently some of these kids spend long periods of time in those indoor and outdoor structures and those things are terribly psychologically damaging,” she said.

“I’m assuming a lot of parents don’t know exactly what has gone on and the education department should be finding out who these children are and offering the family any assistance they need for lasting damaging effects.”

Disability advocate Julie Phillips says children are being mistreated in some Victorian special schools.

Disability advocate Julie Phillips says children are being mistreated in some Victorian special schools.Source:News Limited

The two staff members who reported the happenings at the Bendigo school to Ms Phillips have since lost their jobs and she said parents were now restricted when visiting the school.

“Parents are being stopped at the gate and the kids are being accepted and taken in,” she said.

Ms Phillips said leaders of the school were a “big problem”.

“Some of the most vulnerable and marginalised children in Victoria are at these special schools and they need full protection,” she said.

“Staff members need to be supported to work with children in a positive and therapeutic manner — not supported to lock them up and restrain them.

“Children can sustain a physical injury from being dragged into the room they’re locked in and there may also be psychological trauma.

“We are subjecting children to illegal imprisonment in some circumstances and it increases children’s challenging behaviours.

“In the immediate term the challenge is removed from the classroom but the child comes back the next day and it’s not dealt with.”

A Department of Education and Training spokeswoman confirmed the Bendigo Special Developmental School was being investigated.

“This has been commissioned in response to concerns that were raised by disability advocates regarding some alleged practices in the school,” she said.

“The investigation began earlier this month and is expected to take around six weeks.”

Principal Julie Hommelhoff said she welcomed the independent investigation.

“The school is fully co-operating with this important process,” she said.

“It provides us with an opportunity to reassure parents that the safety and care of every child is an integral part of our school’s values.”

The spokeswoman said the department and schools could not comment further due to the ongoing investigations.