A group of Kingspark parents have travelled to the Scottish Parliament to present a petition to stop what they claim is “institutional child abuse” at the Dundee school.
Beth and Peter Morrison, who organised the petition, are calling on the Scottish Government to introduce national guidelines for all local authority schools caring for special needs/disabled children on the use of restraint and seclusion.
The families told the committee they were at Holyrood “to ask for your help in ensuring the safety of Scotland’s most vulnerable children in council schools”.
Mr and Mrs Morrison have been leading campaigners against the use of restrictive practices, including restraint and seclusion, at Kingspark after their son came home from school covered in bruises and abrasions at the age of 11 in 2010.
After years of campaigning for “justice”, Police Scotland announced a review of the procedures carried out by Tayside Police at the time, which is ongoing.
Mrs Morrison told the committee that in Scottish schools caring for disabled children “is poorly understood and inconsistent, leading to many of our children suffering what we believe is, at best, institutional child abuse and, at worst, criminal assault”.
“Families from all over Scotland have told me about their children being restrained at school, causing injuries like scratches, bruises and abrasions.
“We also believe that in many cases, disabled children are being subjected to restraint or seclusion as a punitive measure.
“Corporal punishment was banned in Scottish schools more than 30 years ago but, in our opinion, failures in guidance and scrutiny have allowed some schools to effectively re-introduce it illicitly for disabled children.
“Many children and young people with complex communication disorders, sensory and learning difficulties may present particular behavioural phenotypes.
“All of these things affect their behaviour, ability to express themselves or communicate their needs. Our children are often unable to say: ‘I’m hungry, thirsty, tired, or I’m in pain.’
“Without the essential training and knowledge to understand the function of the behaviour, staff use restraint and seclusion to overpower and control the child using brute force. This is unacceptable.
“We know that our experience is part of a much wider failure of public policy in Scotland and this is what we need the Parliament to address.”
At the moment it is up to each local authority to develop its own policy on behaviour management and physical intervention.
Parents claim this has led to a massive inconsistency in practice and that there is also evidence of outdated thinking where a failure to show any degree of empathy with the child is evidenced by institutional treatment that would never be accepted if practised on a typically developed child.
The families added: “We need you to make best practice that is apparent in some schools become the norm in every school, where special needs children are educated in Scotland and to ensure that, if abuse and neglect does occur, there is a truly independent body that uncovers and deals with it as swiftly as possible.”
Following the presentation, MSPs questioned those present, including Kate Sanger, of the Challenging Behaviour Foundation, and Ian Hood, from Learning Disability Alliance Scotland.
Mrs Morrison said: “I think we did really well. We were very well received by the petitions committee and they’re going to be writing to lots of organisations with our concerns.
“We need those national guidelines to make sure children are safe and not subject to any harsh treatment.”