Report From Inclusion BC Sheds Light on Disturbing Treatment of Special Needs Students

“Stop Hurting Kids II” found that seclusion and restraint methods are being used against schoolchildren

School is typically seen as a safe haven for children. Tragically, that may not be the case for some special needs students across the province, according to a recent report from advocacy group Inclusion BC

“Stop Hurting Kids II” follows up on a report originally published in 2013. The data was collected through widespread surveying of parents and guardians of children with special needs.

“There’s widespread use of seclusion and restraint in a whole variety of ways being used on children with special needs in B.C. schools,” says Faith Bodnar, Executive Director of Inclusion BC. After the first report was published, members of the group had hoped that the problems it identified would be addressed, but five years later they were “extremely troubled and disturbed to see that it’s continuing to happen in a widespread and systematic way.”

According to the report, some students were restrained by cuffs or tied to chairs, secluded from other students for hours or days, or were physically assaulted by faculty.

Bodnar says that the reasons for the abuse are complex, stemming partially from a lack of resources and partially by ignorance about how to care for special needs children.

She adds that she would like to see a provincial training program to provide methods of nonviolent intervention and monitoring of reported incidences. She says that only 19 out of 60 school districts in the province have policies on seclusion and restraint.

“[It’s] kind of a wild west out there when it comes to these kind of practices,” says Bodnar. “It’s indicative of a cultural bias that says it’s okay—it’s still acceptable—to treat children with special needs this way.”

The report states that, in some cases, abusive practices are used on children on a weekly basis. Bodnar believes that these statistics are evidence that the issue is not being handled properly.

The ramifications of abuse are “significant and traumatic,” she adds. Children can suffer life-long physical pain and psychological and emotional trauma as a result. This affects not only the children, but also their families and the other schoolchildren who witness the abuse.

Parents who participated in the survey said that, after suffering such abuse, their children showed symptoms of anxiety, depression, aggression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and a lack of confidence.

Special needs children are less likely to report their abuse, and Bodnar says that schools rarely inform parents of abuse that takes place on the grounds. Often, either parents discover it for themselves or someone else tips them off. According to Bodnar this is a “fundamental betrayal felt by parents that their children aren’t safe in school.”

Minister of Education Rob Fleming expressed concern regarding Inclusion BC’s report and said that he remains committed to supporting schools and special needs children.

“I’ve directed the ministry to ensure all school districts read this report and review the current provincial guidelines and then ensure they have local policies and clear standards in place to address these practices by the end of the year,” wrote Fleming in an email to The Runner.

“We will also work with Inclusion BC and other education partners to develop an inclusive education action plan that focuses specifically on improving services for students with special needs,” he adds.

Bodnar says that the organization is grateful and appreciative of Minister Fleming’s leadership. She explains that, when the original report was published in 2013, the existing Minister of Education did not take any formal measures to address the issue.

“I think we’re seeing some positive movement here in B.C.,” she says.


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