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The safety of school students with disability

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A report released last November but which has just come to YFX’s attention explores the safety of students with cognitive disability in a school setting; it is the result of research by the Centre for Children and Young People at Southern Cross University.

The report, Safe at school? Exploring safety and harm of students with cognitive disability in and around school, looks in detail at how students, their families and others, such as teachers, child protection and disability workers, view the personal safety of this cohort of students, and what can be done to improve the situation.

Although the problems – such as bullying, harassment and isolation – faced by students with cognitive disability are fairly well documented, little is known about these difficulties from the students’ perspectives. Researchers at Southern Cross University aimed to explore and understand these difficulties in order to assist students and ‘build on existing and developing legal and policy frameworks and good practice’.

The 84-page report includes a literature review, and sections on legal and policy contexts, as well as a final section on implications and recommendations for change. The four ‘core questions’ asked by the researchers were:

  • What characterises the experience of harm of children and young people with cognitive disability in and around school?
  • What are the barriers to keeping students safe?
  • What promotes personal safety for children and young people with cognitive disability?
  • How can their legal and human rights be upheld?

In all, the experiences of 27 young people are detailed in the report, and the harms they suffered ranged from ‘cruel teasing to sexual assault’. The effect of these experiences on the young people’s confidence, happiness and general wellbeing were marked, as was the approach taken by individual schools in dealing with the problems when they were brought to their attention.

This report is an important one for anyone working with or for young people with cognitive disability as it affords a real understanding from the young person’s point of view of what can be done to validate their situation, and how it can be improved. It has implications for policy development and legal obligations within a school setting.

The report can be downloaded from the Youth Coalition of the ACT’s website.

Source:Youth Coalition of the ACT newsletter, May 2023.