Calum’s Story – by Beth Morrison
My son Calum has multiple and complex special needs including Epilepsy, Autism and learning difficulties. He had very little understanding of verbal instructions and extremely limited means of communication.
After being in a mainstream local authority school with enhanced provision in Angus, he went at the end of P5 to a brand new “special school” with a small class (5/6 children). After the first 6 weeks of evaluation he was placed in a new class with a teacher and two carers.
From the very first day in the new class there were problems. Calum came home with bruises and marks on his body that he definitely did not receive at home. I was told that Calum had refused to get off a bike he was riding in the gym hall and this had resulted in him being “restrained” by four staff who had held him for up to forty minutes on the floor. During this time, Calum urinated, only then, did the staff release their hold on him. However, determined to punish Calum for not doing as he was told, the staff went on to force him sit in his urine soaked clothes whilst another member of staff stood over him with an egg timer to indicate he was in “time out.” Calum had no understanding of the concept of “time out” or “punishment.”
Calum’s injuries were seen by doctors and were consistent with positional asphyxia. In the end we counted over 60 bruises and abrasions. He was 10 years old wearing clothes for a 7 year old.
No one was held accountable. There was no apology. The Police were at best, disinterested. Local Authority Child Protection were useless, they were never going to take their own council’s education staff to task. It was deemed “ok” to treat my son in this way, and all in the name of education. I was absolutely furious!
I had no idea school staff could even DO this! I was completely devastated that my small, severely disabled, little boy had been (in my eyes) abused by the very people we trusted to care for and nurture him.
I began to do some research into the use of restraint and found that in the USA, children had DIED as a result of being restrained. I also began to realise that the vast majority of these children had disabilities and special needs. The practise of restraint seemed to go hand in hand with “seclusion” and children having sensory meltdowns because of their neurological conditions were being manhandled into “safe spaces” or “cool down rooms” like criminals being thrown into a prison cell. The children were almost always left alone, frightened and crying until the teacher decided they had “calmed down.”
I joined parent support groups where other children had been subjected to these restrictive practises. Often the kiddies were injured- some quite seriously, yet not one of the children had seen any kind of justice. No member of staff was ever held accountable for their actions. It was all hidden away, behind closed doors like a dirty little secret.
I admit to being quite vocal, and before long, I was being contacted by other parents whose children had also been injured due to having been restrained by school staff. I realised there was a problem with “mechanical restraints” being used to strap mobile children into wheelchairs they were supposed to use only for extended walks, with so many straps that it was effectively being used as a mobile prison. Then, I also heard of schools demanding other children be “medicated” to control behaviour, which had awful side effects. Families were completely powerless, they all felt they had no option but to accept what was happening to their children for fear the school would say their child couldn’t come to school!
So.. I decided to take action.
I began contacting disability and children’s charities asking them to support me in petitioning the Scottish Parliamentary Petitions Committee in Holyrood. Without exception, they were 100% behind me. Many said that we needed “Laws” or at the very least “National Guidance” to protect disabled children from this barbaric practise. The only “guidance” I could find was a document produced years ago called “Holding Safely” but on scrutinising this document, I realised that it was for “looked after” children and “young offenders”. The word “disability” was not mentioned, and it was clear to me that “Holding Safely” had never been designed with severely disabled children in mind.
In March 2015, PE 01548 National Guidance on Restraint and Seclusion in Schools finally came to the public petitions committee in Holyrood and we were invited to speak to the MSP’s asking for them to take action to ensure the Scottish Government gave us the guidance that was desperately needed.
In July 2015, an NGO report for Together Scotland was submitted to the UNCRC (United Nations Convention of The Rights Of The Child) in Geneva. Key points in our petition were recommended for implementation in order for the Scottish Government to comply with the UNCRC
In September 2015, the petition was heard again in Holyrood by the petitions committee and The Scottish Government said it was “committed” to refreshing guidance for ALL children.
This was great news, but I still felt that The Scottish Government had completely misunderstood our objectives and we needed to focus on DISABLED children. The petitions committee are writing again to The Scottish Government to seek clarification and to ensure they engage with me and key experts in disability who understand the issues and can help the government write the guidelines we desperately need.
Meanwhile, I am considering setting up an organisation which would find funding needed to train families and staff in schools in “Positive Behaviour Support,” meaning there would be a departure from the restrictive physical interventions (restraint and seclusion).
My vision is to base all Positive Behaviour Support Plans for children with complex special needs on a Communication Passport which is written in conjunction with families who know their children better than anyone. This passport will give details on the child, their condition, how it affects them AND, most importantly how they communicate their needs.
How can staff support a child if they are not fully aware of the child’s needs? The answer is simply- they cannot.
Every disabled child should have a Communication Passport and EVERY member of staff working with that child should have access to it and understand the contents in order to support the child correctly. It should not be left in a file somewhere, it should go everywhere the child goes and be available instantly for the carer to refer to.
Behaviour is all about communication, we need to ask what the function of the behaviour is, why is it happening, and what replacement behaviour can we teach so the child can communicate their needs better.
Calum is now happily back in Angus, supported in a mainstream school with enhanced provision by staff who care about his needs and how they can best support him so that he can achieve. He is thriving. He is HAPPY!
Well done Calum 🙂