By bobb |

Henrietta Cook

The United Nations has been asked to investigate dozens of incidents in which children with disabilities were allegedly assaulted, locked in dark rooms and restrained in Australian schools.

The request, which was made on behalf of 55 families by a group of disability organisations, cited "widespread and grave" violations of students' human rights.

The group is seeking international intervention because it claims Australia has failed to act.

Around 36 per cent of students in these 55 families reported being physically assaulted by school staff. Some students with a disability were allegedly punched, pulled and kicked by staff.

"Many children who were assaulted required medical treatment for their injuries, some for lengthy periods of time," the request said.

The request, which was sent to the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, said half these students were physically restrained at school, where staff held or sat on them.

The harrowing cases were collected by six groups including Autistic Family Collective, Children and Young People with Disability Australia, United Voices for People with Disabilities and disability advocate Julie Phillips.

Half the children with disabilities were detained or secluded in unsuitable and unsafe structures, according to the request.

"Schools had various names for these structures including 'calm rooms', 'time out spaces' and 'playgrounds'. In reality, parents reported that these spaces were storerooms, cupboards and unused buildings with windows blacked out and lights shut off," it said.

Students who were detained in these spaces suffered injuries including severe anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, extensive bruising and cuts, it said.

Almost 62 per cent of parents said their children experienced "cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment" including being humiliated in front of the class for their lack of knowledge and dragged across the school in front of their classmates.

Many families also reported neglect, including having no education plan and being left unattended with no schoolwork.

Children and Young People with Disability Australia chief executive Stephanie Gotlib said disability organisations had raised these concerns "time and time again" but to no avail. She said she was receiving more reports of restraint and seclusion.

"It is a system in crisis," she said.

Disability advocate Julie Phillips said education departments around Australia had left her with no option but to seek intervention from the UN. "The numbers of students with disabilities who have experienced similar violations is much bigger than the cases provided to the UN."

Paul Benetti suspects his daughter, who is in grade 3 and has autism and severe behaviours, has been restrained six times since starting school. His older daughter, who attends the same school, once found her little sister on the ground being held by support staff.

"My younger daughter has a memory of that. We are not only dealing with the disability, we are dealing with the trauma now," he said.

The Victorian government has appointed an officer to work with schools to improve and review the way they respond to students with behavioural issues, and schools now have to report every time they use restraints or seclude a child.