By Hayley Roman
Reports of "padded cells" at two Perth schools were among calls to a confidential "dob-in" hotline set up to address abuse and neglect of people with disabilities.
The hotline was set up after a Senate inquiry into abuse of people with a disability in residential and institutional settings, which held sittings in Perth in April, heard witnesses recount testimonies of horrific rapes, brutal physical assaults, severe neglect and regular humiliation, where people had been left alone in their own faeces for hours on end.
Apparently there's a pink padded cell and a white padded cell at two schools in the metro area and some students are being put into modified storerooms and locked in storerooms.
People With Disabilities project officer Samantha Connor
The inquiry also heard abuse was chronically underreported, largely because victims were often not believed or could not communicate what had happened.
The hotline was open from 9am-6pm on Saturday, with People With Disabilities WA and Developmental Disability WA taking about a dozen calls as well as emails, and requests for call backs.
People With Disabilities project officer Samantha Connor said the information from callers was "disturbing" and included allegations of students with autism or other disabilities being restrained or secluded.
"Apparently there's a pink padded cell and a white padded cell at two schools in the metro area and some students are being put into modified storerooms and locked in storerooms," she said.
Isolation rooms for students' own safety, Minister says
Education Minister Peter Collier released a statement saying the use of isolation rooms does not mean a child is being abused.
The presence and use of such a room in no way means the child is being abused.
Education Minister Peter Collier
"In rare circumstances, for the safety of a student and their classmates, schools may use withdrawal or isolation rooms temporarily to diffuse a potentially dangerous situation," the statement said.
"Students are not locked inside these rooms and they are observed, generally through a window, at all times.
"When developing plans for students with special needs, a school psychologist may recommend an isolation room be set up for that child for use when their behaviour becomes so extreme they need somewhere safe to calm down.
"The child's parents and the school's principal and regional executive director need to agree and sign off on the plan before the isolation room is used.
"The presence and use of such a room in no way means the child is being abused.
"It is for their own safety and for the safety of those around them."
Abuse allegations date back many years
Ms Connor said some callers also reported long-term abuse or incidents dating back decades.
"A young woman who was sexually assaulted by two staff members in a workplace over a period of many years, there's also been allegations of sexual assault in the 1970s and 80s," she said.
Ms Connor said another caller reported a man who had slept in his wheelchair for 14 years and suffered severe pressure sores because he did not receive the right care from his carer.
She said the reports were "as expected", echoing stories revealed in recent months through the Senate inquiry into abuse against people in institutional and residential settings.
One case from yesterday's hotline will be referred to police, while other callers have been connected with the Senate inquiry or the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Ms Connor said while some callers were reporting abuse for the first time, most were people expressing frustration they had reported abuse without having the issue resolved.
"They weren't heard, that they weren't believed, they'd gone through a system and they'd reached a full stop and no-one was held accountable," she said.
People With Disabilities will continue to take people's reports for the next fortnight before compiling and releasing a public report at the end of the month.