How much more can advocacy achieve in our quest for inclusive education? 

This was the second session at the ‘Back to school’ Advocacy sector Conversations forum held at the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre on 15 February 2018.

Other sessions at this forum included:


Overview

Julie Phillips, Manager at Disability Discrimination Legal Service (DDLS), ponders why, despite the glut of inquiries, reviews and research, the rights of students with disabilities to be included equally in education, has seemingly done nothing to increase the understanding of what inclusive education means. Recent case studies highlight how this ignorance by teachers, principals and departments of education results in dire , unacceptable consequences and far from satisfactory educational outcomes for children with disability.

 

 

References mentioned in this session include:

 

Transcript

 

MELISSA HALE, DARU CO-ORDINATOR:
Welcome back everybody, if you could all just grab a seat.  I would now like to introduce Julie Phillips who is the Manager of Disability Discrimination Legal Service and also a board member of Disability Advocacy Victoria who in partnership with the VCOSS looks after DARU.

Julie has extensive expertise in education issues and she will attempt to answer the question ‘how much more can advocacy achieve in our quest for inclusive education?’  Please welcome Julie.

JULIE PHILLIPS, DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION LEGAL SERVICE:
Hi everyone.  In addition to being on the board of Disability Advocacy Victoria I’m also an individual member as an advocate so I bring both, well all three of those hats I guess to this presentation.  This presentation was based on or is actually a presentation that I gave for the Inclusive Education Summit in Adelaide last October.

There’s a couple of references to other states and that’s why because I was too lazy to change the PowerPoint, but you probably won’t be surprised to know what’s happening in Victoria is also happening in other states.  It’s pretty well much the same across Australia.  I’m sure there are little tiny pockets in some states that do well but I guess there’s no point in relying upon pockets we really should be relying upon the systems and systemic change.

In terms of where we are now and the state of affairs if you like, we’ve probably had more reports and submissions and reviews and enquiries into education in the last five or six years than ever before.  Not that we haven’t been having them for decades now, and sadly they’re often saying exactly the same thing decade after decade, but we have had a bit of a rush of reports and they are some of them.

The Federal Senate Enquiries and Reports obviously look at Australia but they receive submissions from almost every state if not every state.  The third from the bottom that was I think I’m referring to the State Abuse Enquiry and we also had an Autism Services Enquiry last year as well.  Even in the Autism Enquiry we had a section on schooling.  The New South Wales ombudsman they brought out a report last year on how schools deal with behaviours of concern which or as Minister Merlino described them today violent and aggressive behaviours and they again mirror some of the conversations that we’re having in Victoria.

Just the fact that we get the Minister for Education referring to and it is children with disabilities who tend to display behaviours of concern, and usually in response to incompetence and cruelty in the school situation, it is quite disappointing that he continues to use that pejorative language when referring to these kids.

If you haven’t read all those reports it probably won’t surprise you that if I summarise them they are all bad news for students with disabilities in Victoria and across Australia.  In terms of who has the power to change things for kids with disabilities I would like to be able to say it’s we advocates.  It’s probably the Minister if they have the courage to intervene quite strongly in the department.  But it’s really the secretary of the department and particularly in Victoria it’s the legal division who are in the Department of Education that seem to be controlling a lot of what goes on even the contents of booklets and brochures.

Having been in a few working groups you can get together and you can discuss things and you can make decisions about how you think things should be and then it will go to the legal division for the final say.  I guess that’s another sad reality of whose controlling things like the quality of education for students in Victoria with disabilities.

Some people who don’t work in the sector in terms of disability and education could be forgiven for thinking that reading material that’s put out by the Department of Education and thinking that things have improved.  It’s really quite interesting to see the wording of some of these brochures that looks quite good until you actually concentrate on some of the detail.  The reality of those is quite different.

I know there are independent schools, there’s the Catholic schools, no I get the New South Wales terminology and Victorian terminology mixed up the Catholic Education Commission in Victoria.  But let’s face it the largest provider of education to students with disabilities in Victoria is the Department of Education and that’s probably why I concentrate on them.  The Catholic Education Commission tend to borrow or use Department of Education resources and booklets.

When I refer to some of the booklets that are around I use the term smoke and mirrors.  One of the really good examples is the brochure that came out last year Principles for Reduction and Elimination of Restraint and Seclusion in Victorian Government Schools.  Now really that is about addressing behaviours of concerns or as Minister Merlino would say violent and aggressive children.

The reason that there was a working group set up to give input into this topic is I’m not sure how many of you are aware but restraint and seclusion or assault and false imprisonment as I like to call it because that’s what it actually is is actually a big problem in Victorian schools particularly special schools where there’s some cultures that are from the 1950s.  It was decided that the principle practice leader who has been seconded from the Office of Professional Practice would convene a working group to develop this booklet.

In the end my organisation and some other organisations wrote and said that we did not want any reference to our organisations to be made in terms of the development of that booklet.  What it ends up doing is being a resource that does not need to be read for a start and secondly it’s mostly not compulsory.  In the booklet itself I think there are about three things that are absolutely mandatory now.  You shouldn’t subject a child to prone restraint, which is good because you can kill them by doing so.  You can’t use mechanical restraint anymore and you can’t use purpose built seclusion rooms.

Those of us that were involved in the working group particularly on the advocacy side were saying and were told that the plan was to forbid any type of seclusion whatsoever.  That’s what we were told that’s not what happened.  The concern about banning purpose built seclusion rooms is this – most of you hopefully will believe that seclusion should not be necessary in Victorian schools.

If there was someone who had behaviour so severe that for example they were punching themselves in the head and were about to disassociate their retina from their eyeball and you needed to seclude them you would actually want a purpose built seclusion room because you would want it temperature controlled, you would want it dare I say padded, you would want an observation window, you would want someone taking observations at all times.

Now what we have is a school sector that have been locking kids up in time out rooms and other euphemistically described spaces where there has been none of the things that I was just mentioning that are safety mechanisms.  They’re being told that they can’t seclude kids in a purpose built seclusion room anymore but they can seclude someone in a cupboard.  This is a problem.  Also the language in terms of all the other supports that are suggested in this document are along the lines of you may, you can, you might like to.  There is very little that is prescribed for teachers in terms of addressing behaviours of concern.

As far as a number of us were concerned it was a brochure that looked like the Government was doing a great job but if you looked at the fine detail nearly everything that occurred before was still able to occur except for those few things that I told you about and physical restraint off course is still allowed as long as you’re not putting a child in a prone restraint position.

The problem is unless you resource schools adequately they’ve been using these methods for decades.  If you take away methods that they’ve been using for decades but you don’t provide the resources that they need to stop using those, which is access to funds to employ external practitioners.  So those of you who work in the area might be aware that behaviours of concern might occur because a child has no functional communication and therefore is so frustrated not being able to communicate they communicate through behaviours instead. Therefore what they need is a speech pathologist who is an expert in augmentative and alternative communication, designing, doing an assessment, assisting in a decision of what device that child should use, writing a communication plan, training the staff in it, training the child in it, supervising and monitoring that process.

Now all that needs money.  Even though we have had a review of the program for students with disabilities it has not changed yet and there are the same number of complaints being lodged this year last year the year before as there have been ever before.

This is an example of a brochure that makes Victoria look good and to be quite frank in relation to the other states this is the best brochure but again no support for the teachers to actually change the methods they’ve been using.  The principle practice leader pops in and gives a bit of advice and pops out again, it’s not what schools need.

The reality again, this is now Regulation 25, I’m not sure where the status of this is but some of you might know that this Education and Training Reform Act was reviewed last year and a number of organisations including the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission strongly recommended that this regulation come out and all the Department did was change the number of it.

This is the regulation that anytime a child is subjected to restraint or seclusion that the Department of Education trots out.  Even in the face of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, Disability Advocacy Victoria and I’m sure a lot more people saying this needs to come out, it’s perpetuating the abuse of kids with disabilities, it didn’t, it’s still in.

I just wanted to give you some case studies and as I said even though I’ve got one from Adelaide I could just easily pick one that’s probably almost the same from Melbourne.  This is a child who is I think he is about 13 now and he’s gone to eight schools.  Each school, I better be careful, maybe 95% of those schools subjected him to restraint, seclusion, brought in no expert assistance to address his behaviours and they also couldn’t address his learning disabilities.  He’s lodged at the Australian Human Rights Commission simply in order that he might get his behaviours addressed before Year 12 and he ends up in that cycle of juvenile justice which we all know so well.

This is a good Melbourne case, his mother said you can use our name but I won’t.  John has complex communication needs, he is non-verbal.  He’s been taught no communication method.  He went to Marnebek School, which is a school notorious for not teaching kids how to communicate and instead locking them up.  He is seen as so disabled that he is really not worth educating.  For six years he has had these goals in his individual education plan – making a mark on a piece of paper, matching colours, matching letters to his name, making noises and smiling.

He went to a mainstream school last year, actually it was the year before and they were equally stunned in terms of knowing what to do with him and one of their goals was experience the weather conditions.  As I said to the principal my gold fish can meet that goal and all John has to do to meet the first goal is fall over with a crayon in his hand and if a bit of paper is on the ground he will meet that one as well.

We are still even though the glossy brochures talk about capacity, every child has capacity kids with disabilities particularly those that might have intellectual disabilities and particularly those with no functional communication methods are still being treated as though they’re utterly stupid. Rather than intensifying efforts to ensure that by the time they leave school everything that can be done has been done to support their education what we have instead is this.

We have a lot of paperwork surrounding those goals but the fact that he didn’t meet any communication goals in terms of gaining functional communication any year did not seem to worry anyone.  His mother is now in charge of attempting to teach the school what to do with him and how to teach him.  Even though there is a discrimination complaint at the Australian Human Rights Commission the school still can’t seem to manage to bring in the experts who know what to do with this child.  And he is a very typical child of special schoolchildren.

Country Victoria, I don’t know if many of you saw the press about Bendigo Special Development School early 2016.  I’m sure you probably are more familiar with the Blue Cage from the ACT and what a fuss was made when a photograph of that was taken.  It went all around Australia and people were horrified.  The only reason that Bendigo SDS has been able to get away with their cages is because we didn’t have a photo but we had plenty of evidence and outdoor pens we had photos of those.

An investigation was held into this school and I had access to a lot of the statements.  There were teachers and parents saying that these cages were used to put kids in who had behaviours of concern.  The principal told the investigators that the cages were in the classrooms in case kids with epilepsy had seizures and they could put them in there so the blind kids wouldn’t trip over them.  Unbelievably Minister Merlino decided publically at least to accept that explanation and everyone involved in the overseeing of those cages and the use of those cages to my knowledge is still a teacher.  The principal is still a principal, not at this school but of another school where kids with disabilities are.

That was a very low moment in Victoria where again, just because these kids have a disability it seems that they can be treated in any way anybody chooses and it’s okay.

I wanted to talk about faced with these challenges the different types of advocacy that are available.  The picture that you’ve got hopefully by now if you didn’t know already was that we’ve had decades of at the very least educational negligence and at the very worst abuse of kids with disabilities in schools.  I think it’s really interesting that as you know we can’t seem to get a Royal Commission into the abuse of people with disabilities but we can in terms of banking and child sexual abuse.  As usual people with disabilities don’t seem to get the same respect or care or interest as other members of the community.

It’s kind of depressing to look back at decades gone past and compare where we are now with then which isn’t very far unfortunately.  The examples I’ve given you just the last two examples are very very common.  We have traditionally what I call our cup of tea advocacy where advocates work in a way they think it’s very important to have collaborative relationships with the school and it’s better to be part of the conversation than without.

Polite requests are made to schools to do the right thing by these kids.  Principals and teachers are asked politely to do what is needed to be done because it’s a nice thing to do, because it’s the right thing to do, because little Johnny needs that to be done and often that doesn’t work which is why we have the lodging of complaints at Human Rights Commission, going to VCAT and the Federal Court prolifically.  We have the Equal Opportunity Act that covers education. One of the difficulties with that Act is it ultimately goes to VCAT if the matter doesn’t settle at the Victorian Commission and VCAT is not known for its progressive decisions in relation to disability discrimination.

We also have the problem that it’s hard to get lawyers to act for a family with a child with a disability at VCAT because it’s a no cost jurisdiction and therefore a law firm will not get any costs back even if they win.  Then families often have to rely on Community Legal Centres who interestingly are not resourced sufficiently like mine to run trials.  We have 2.7 people at the Disability Discrimination Legal Service and that includes me and I’m just the manager not a lawyer, admin/bookkeeper.  So if you add up the legal assistance that’s off course free it’s very sparse.

We have the Disability Discrimination Act, which has the education standards.  Can I have a show of hands as to who thinks the education standards have been helpful and that they’re a good thing?  Okay, that’s good, you’re all very clever.  No hands up.

The Disability Discrimination Act is a very rigid piece of legislation where you’ve got to really think very hard sometimes about how you fit the mistreatment of a child with a disability into that Act.  The education standards have actually been the worst thing that’s happened to the Disability Discrimination Act because they are worded so badly and have been interpreted so negatively in terms of the student with a disability with the encouragement of the Department of Education that the standards virtually say that any reasonable adjustment for a child which is just legal speak for a support will be decided upon by the teacher.

The student with a disability has no say the parent has no say and the student’s practitioners have no say.  When I say they have no say they can say something but ultimately it will be the teachers who decide.  To my mind that is the most bizarre state of affairs for a piece of Human Rights Legislation that you have the discriminators in charge of deciding what supports a student will receive.

The Disability Discrimination Act has been weakened substantially by the creation of the Disability Standards for Education.  They’re meant to be reviewed every five years and they have been but the last review, which was 2015, undertaken by the Federal Government, treated the standards as a narrative rather than a piece of legislation.  The report was actually along the lines of oh yes we have to distribute these standards because people don’t know enough about them and treated them like that instead of looking at the case law, which suggests that so far they’ve been an abject failure.

That’s the first really negative thing about the Disability Discrimination Act.  The second negative thing is if you want to make a complaint under that Act you have to go to the Federal Court, which is opposite to VCAT a cost jurisdiction which means if you run a case and you lose it you have to pay the other sides costs, which could be half a million dollars.  You probably think I’m complaining about the State Act because it’s no cost and I’m complaining about the Federal Act because it’s cost.

I think what we need is if parents want to use the Disability Discrimination Act because they want to go to a court and have a judge hear their case then there shouldn’t be that cost risk.  That was typical of a lot of the submissions to the review of the Disability Standards for Education because they’re inextricably linked with the Disability Discrimination Act.

People with disabilities or their families should not have to risk losing their house to have their rights enshrined, rights which are already protected.  It’s bizarre that students might have to have their families risk such a thing simply to get an education.  I can tell you right now that many students with disabilities are not getting any education at all and when I say that I think the very basics we can expect for kids with disabilities is literacy and numeracy.

Functional literacy and numeracy so when they leave school they can go to the shop, they can read train timetables and train stations etc.  For many kids with disabilities that is a dream and yet to get that you might have to go to the Federal Court.  Mind you the only reason you have to go to the Federal Court is because the Department of Education will not give an inch when a complaint is brought before them at the Commission.

We have media.  Media is actually quite helpful sometimes in that it shows the community what’s going on because I don’t believe the community does know what’s going on.  The convention on the rights of people with a disability, well look that’s a nice convention it says all the right things.  It can be used as an advocacy tool and I encourage people to do so. I guess the trouble is what happens when you use such tools and it’s the same with the conventions on the rights of the child, what happens when you use such tools and the principal of the school or the region says well no, that’s why you need that legal backing.

I suppose one of the reasons that it’s so easy to say no when students are asking for supports is because they know that the legal protections are so weak and the system is so in favour of the transgressors that not many parents will take them on.  You can go to the Ombudsman.  No parent I have referred there has had much luck there.

As I said before we’ve had a lot of reports through these bodies recently.  I don’t know if it was in my list but the Ombudsman also did a report approximately one year ago on expulsion and suspension and there were three main groups that seemed to be expelled and suspended the most and one of those was kids with disabilities.

So what makes parents so desperate that they do end up taking that legal road and why should they?  In a way, it’s completely outrageous that a normal family Mr and Mrs. Smith will have to sue the State of Victoria just to get Johnny an Auslan interpreter or an aide or some speech pathology support in school.  But that happens every four to six weeks in Victoria.  Probably not many people know that but that’s the facts of the matter.

One of the really fascinating things about working in the legal arena is that you get to see the Department of Education’s real response not the glossy brochure response, not the media release saying how much everybody cares in an election year but you get the real response from the Department of Education about what they think.  Here are the list of things that the Department of Education say are not reasonable adjustments.  They include student support groups, behaviour plans, individual education plans, behaviour assessments and protection from bullying.  They support invisible individual education plans, invisible behaviour plans, restraint and seclusion.

When I use the word invisible even though best practice for decades in probably any area that you care to think of in life a plan indicates a document in writing the Department of Education still supports their teachers say yes there was an individual education plan, we had it in our heads.  So it’s the worst and most embarrassing level of professionalism that is brought to kids with disabilities.

Restraint and seclusion as I’ve mentioned, every time there is a case about restraint and seclusion the Department defend their position to the hilt.  It doesn’t matter if it’s multiple instances of restraint and seclusion which indicate incompetence let’s face it.  The first it happens you know you’ve got to get real and you’ve got to get highly qualified experts in to provide intensive assistance.  But it won’t matter if it’s happened fifty times the Department of Education will support each act.

It actually is handy working in that area to know what’s real how they really think about kids with disabilities and not what they might stand up and say if they were here today talking about their own services.

This is an example of a case and I’ve had almost the same one in Victoria last year but this is the worst case I have ever seen and the Department of Education in Queensland are defending their position.  This involved the repeated physical violence and restraint of a young primary school aged boy with multiple disabilities who was put in seclusion and there was A Current Affair response on it about one and a half years ago, photos of the room etc. because a lot of kids had been put in this room and their parents didn’t know about it, had never seen it before.  One of the mums came to the school out of hours because she left something there and a cleaner let her in and that’s where she found it.

But this boy was restrained so often that he would vomit and the teachers would give him a little break of five minutes and start restraining him again.  I don’t think any of you need to be medical professionals to realise that it’s probably a miracle that this boy is alive.  Just normal restraint and seclusion of course injury and death for kids with disabilities in schools in the UK and USA and probably other countries but they’re the only reports I have and kids have died in seclusion as well.  But to physically restrain someone repeatedly over and over again until they vomit and then just start doing it immediately you think they’ve recovered it’s hard to imagine
A, what sort of people are responsible for the care of kids with disabilities but
B, what sort of people are the bureaucrats that are defending those actions.

So what can the outcomes of litigation be and the reason I’m talking about litigation is it is a type of advocacy, it’s just legal advocacy.  For me there is no legal advocacy and there’s legal advocacy.  When families get a settlement obviously, it’s a vindication for them because even though it might be secret and no one knows about it, even though most deeds of release say we don’t admit any liability, the fact you’re paying a great wad of money over usually indicates that perhaps you might think you’ve done the right thing even if you refuse to say it, done the wrong thing sorry.

As I said sometimes, you can get media coverage and that way more people know about the things that I’m talking about because I think the community should know.  The negative of them is that the settlements are confidential and often there’s little systemic change.  Sometimes my colleagues remind me that there are a couple of things that have changed and that’s true but in terms of the pace of change I do worry that in 20 years I’ll stop this and look back and have to really think very hard about how much significant change there has been.

Millions of dollars are apparently not good enough to spend resourcing teachers and schools to support kids with disability.  It’s being spent on lawyers and private lawyers like MinterEllison and Allens, which the Department of Education are happy to support.  Next time you go through their art galleries when you’re going to their reception desk it’s your money supporting those art galleries and its money that could’ve been put into schools to support teachers and students.  I do say support teachers because teachers are in the middle and they don’t have the expertise, they don’t have the resources and the system is set up so that parents and teachers are at each other because of course parents are going to fight for their kids and teachers are hamstrung and can’t do anything about it.

It’s got a higher cost the discrimination against kids with disabilities than just the child.  Most parents who have been through this have acquired mental health issues like depression and anxiety simply from dealing with the school and some teachers are developing that as well because the Department of Education again does not support them but expects them to stand up in court and try and defend the indefensible.

One judge in the Federal Court said something quite extraordinary about a year ago and I won’t remember his exact words but he said in open court that he was concerned about the number of complaints that were coming to the Federal Court and the fact that they were all being confidentially settled.  You would be.  If you were the head of any complaints department and you had the same complaints coming in year after year on the same subject matter the intelligent thing to do if you’re the service provider yourself is take stock and think okay we’ve got a big problem here we need to do something about it.  Now the Federal Courts none of their business, they can’t do anything but he was expressing concern nevertheless.  Unfortunately, that concern is not shared by the Department of Education.

You might wonder why this is happening.  Does anyone have an explanation?  As much as I can think of why this is happening this is pretty well much all I can come up with.  My view is that the general community does not see the issue of disability in the same sexy way as perhaps indigenous rights and refugee rights and I want to make it quite clear I support those rights.  I just wonder why people with disabilities can’t get a guernsey and get the same level of interest in the abuse of them and the discrimination against them that other groups can.

That’s why I think we can’t get a royal commission.  That’s why when abuse is recorded of kids with disabilities in schools that it’s accepted and that’s why when you go to the police and you report a crime against a child with disability in a school they won’t take it.  Some of you may have read the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission report on being a victim of crime and attempting to report that to the police.

I’ve got a question mark after reluctance to spend money because I do not understand why there’s no reluctance to spend money on the legal side of things instead of the school side of things.  I know they are separate budgets and millions seem to be allocated to the legal division’s budget and clearly the budgets for schools are not enough.  Why no one at the Department of Education has the intelligence to think that if they just swapped over that money from one budget to another that might not be the more humane and intelligent thing to do, I don’t know why.

There is a level of general educational incompetence across the board.  We know that every year we read reports about the fact that our students in Australia compared to other students in other countries across the world are not doing very well.  My own observation being involved in these matters is that a number of Victorian teachers and indeed a lot of people working for the Department don’t know what the term evidence based means, don’t know what the term best practice means, don’t know what the term remedial means, don’t know what a modified curriculum means.

I guess the last one is is it too hard.  I see people dancing around the edges like the current Minister who every time he does one little thing puts out a big media release and says look what I’ve done like the review of the PSD funding, which we didn’t really need a review because people have been criticising that system and saying it’s inadequate for years.  Any system that cuts out the majority of disabilities as being eligible for individual funding is clearly not going to make the grade.

It’s interesting because having worked in this area for about 15 years my first case involved sign language interpreters for deaf kids in the year 2000.  There was only me a junior barrister and that’s all there was.  We went down to Gippsland and on the first day of the hearing the Government just gave up.  It was one of the best settlements I had ever seen in my life.  Now we’re in 2018, do you think that deaf students have the right to an Auslan interpreter enshrined in any Department of Education policy whatsoever, no they don’t.

There’s been another court case in 2006 in Victoria that was run and was successful and they’ve been a couple in Queensland that I was involved in.  Even after winning two Federal Court cases in Queensland their solution to that problem was not to give the right of deaf kids accredited Auslan interpreters but to make up some new position called an ALM an Auslan Language something or other.  It’s like a support person.  So it’s often a deaf person who they bring in because the deaf person has some sign language and somehow fits in the middle between the teacher and the deaf kid but there is no interpreter interpreting for the teacher.  It’s fiddling again around the edges and we can’t seem to achieve the simplest of things.

You can imagine that when a lot traditionally a long time ago of the discrimination complaints seemed to be relatively simple deaf people need Auslan interpreters not all of them but those that use Auslan.  Blind people need zoomtext or braille.  People with wheel chairs need ramps.  Ramps thing I think we’ve pretty well got under control but now we’ve got a lot of kids in the system with cognitive disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, oppositional defined disorder, ADHD, language disorders, dyslexia, learning disabilities and all of those ones are very difficult because teachers don’t know how to handle them.  They get very little guidance and they don’t fit well into discrimination law.

It’s easy to think person in a wheelchair needs a ramp but when you’re talking about the modifications that a kid might need with a severe language disorder different matter entirely.  And because the Department have fought the idea that an assessment is a reasonable adjustment and succeeded persuading the courts that an education plan is not a reasonable adjustment unless one can define the strategies, you can’t define the strategies in the plan until you do the assessment first.

If the Department win on their recent attempts to say that assessments that are not reasonable adjustments all these kids with the cognitive disabilities that I was just talking about are doomed.  You make a complaint saying Johnny needed speech therapy well how much speed therapy did he need, exactly how many visits a week and how long were they meant to be.  Well we can’t tell you that because we didn’t get any recommendations because they wouldn’t do an assessment, oh well bad luck.

It’s actually quite dire.  I think fixing these issues require such an overhaul that no one is prepared to do it.  The pace of change is really quite desperate in my view because if you work on the cold face with some of these kids there are very serious consequences for them.  Apart from boys going into the juvenile justice system, we’ve got girls who are becoming depressed, boys who are often developing behaviours of concern in response to being bullied because they seem stupid to the other kids.  You’ve got kids that by primary school are expressing suicidal ideation just because of the incompetence of their school environment.  Even in the last couple of year’s one child who has committed suicide because of his school experience.

As I said the parents will often develop mental health problems because what do you do when your child is suffering and no matter how much you plead or you argue you can’t get a change in their circumstances.

Apart from the things I just mentioned the other issues are leaving school without an education, leaving school without being able to communicate, forced home schooling, forced distance education.  It’s interesting to note that in terms of home schooling and let’s face it no parent really is excited about doing home schooling they do it because there is no other way.  The recent changes that the Department have made to the Education Training Reform Act, makes it harder to home school.  In fact had a lot of prescriptive mechanisms like individual education plans, which you will now have to show whoever is in charge of home schooling despite the fact that the Department of Education’s view is their staff can use invisible education plans if you’re a parent you’re not going to be able to get away with that.

These are some of the things that are going on and of course, if you leave school without an education you won’t get a job you’re not going to be able to get tertiary education.  It’s not like 30 years ago when you could just pick up a trade like painting.  Nowadays you’ve got to pass occupational health and safety requirements even if you’re a worker on the garbage trucks.  You’ve got to be able to read the paint tin.  You’ve got to be able to read your companies policies even if it is a building firm on harassment and safety and all sorts of things.  You can’t get away with not being able to read and write these days.

Picture of doom and gloom, which I’ve just painted, what can we do?  We have to do something differently.  We can’t allow these families and these children, once their out of school and they’re on that trajectory there’s usually no going back.

I guess some of my colleagues and I have been thinking because we’re all getting older about what on earth can be done to do something that has an impact on this really quite desperate situation.  I’ve put unity there because I think we all need to be on the same page and have an understanding of what the reality of the situation is.  The reality is as I’ve put it, and I can support anything I say very easily I think we need to be strong and the cup of tea advocacy and the reasonable dialogue has not worked and it’s been decades now and it’s not working.

I don’t think our kids can afford to wait much longer.  Targeted civic action might have to be done as well because I’m not sure what we haven’t done yet.  We’ve tried everything.  We’ve contributed to reviews, we’ve contributed to enquiries, we’ve contributed to the working groups of the Department when they’ve asked us.  I’m not quite sure how much more we can do in the traditional sense.

I’m inviting you to have a think about this because a number of us across Australia academics and human rights activists and advocates are thinking about what steps we might be able to take in the next year that might achieve some very specific but important outcomes for kids with disabilities.   If you’re interested perhaps let Melissa or Natasha know because Disability Advocacy Victoria are looking at being a coordinating point for some of that action and in the five minutes left did anyone have any questions?

[no questions]

Thanks, I’m sorry that was all bad news but that’s how it is and I think we all need to take stock and see if there’s not a different way that we can think about addressing this issue.

Thank you.

MELISSA HALE:
Thank you very much Julie.  Well there you go people, I’m sure Julie will stick around for another five minutes or so, three minutes if you want to grab her in the break.

We will break now and I’ll see you back here at 2.30 p.m. thank you.

Author:
DARU

Date published:
Fri 16th Feb, 2018