The Mental Health Reform In Australia: Child Restraints & Seclusion

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Australia’s Mental Health Act is currently under reform and being re-written as part of that the Mental Health Act 1986 – Reform Drafting of the new Mental Health Act is underway. The legislative reforms will promote recovery oriented practice, minimise the duration of compulsory treatment, safeguard the rights and dignity of people with mental illness and enhance oversight while encouraging innovation and service improvement. The new Mental Health Act in Victoria is due to be released in 2014. Under the old Act the use of seclusion and restraint is deemed as acceptable practice in hospitals and Mental health facilities. The National Mental Health Commission is trying to stop the use of seclusion and restraint in all services. The NMHC is of the view the use of seclusion and restraint causes long term damage to individuals with little to no therapeutic benefit.  This is also supported by the Victorian department of Health, Office of the Chief Psychiatrist . In children’s settings Nationally data shows that child and adolescent units have a higher rate of seclusion events than general units, with 20.9 events per 1000 bed days recorded last financial year compared with 11.9 events in general units. The use of restraint is not recorded so it is unclear how much the use of restraint is used in children’s settings.

The argument lies is the use of seclusion and restraint beneficial and/ or therapeutic to already traumatized children? This article highlights that the use of restraint among children’s settings is not only physically damaging to the child, it is also emotionally and psychologically damaging to the child. The UN Rights of the child (which Australia is a signatory to) the child by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth. Under Principle 1 of the article: Every child, without any exception whatsoever, shall be entitled to these rights, without distinction or discrimination on account of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, whether of himself or of his family. Every child has the right to medical treatment which precludes the use of violence; this includes physical, emotional and psychological harm. As a result of physical restraint, children are being harmed not on physically, but emotionally and psychologically. Such hospitals are there to provide a therapeutic environment free from violence. When a child is restrained or secluded this instils fear and mistrust and evokes high levels of violence. There is a push in Australia at the moment to have the use of seclusion and restraint in children under 12 removed from the new Mental health Act which will be released next year, as many departments and child advocates and services cannot see any therapeutic benefit from such practices with already traumatised and emotionally unbalanced children.


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By: Kieran Mitchell

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One Response

  1. Sandra Boulter November 3, 2013

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