Wednesday 25 April 2012

Surveillance for Safety of People With Disabilities - A Good Thing?

Today's Huffington Post reported on a youtube video which has gone viral over the last 12 hours:

When Stuart Chaifetz sent his 10-year-old son to New Jersey's Horace Mann Elementary School wearing a hidden audio recorder, he couldn't have predicted what he would uncover.
The move came in reaction to accusations from the school that his son Akian was having "violent outbursts," including hitting his teacher and teacher's aide -- claims that Chaifetz claims are against his son's "sweet and non-violent" nature.
Akian, who has Autism, returned with a tape containing hours of apparent verbal and emotional abuse from his classroom aide and teacher -- whom Chaifetz identifies as "Jodi" and "Kelly" -- a recording which his father later published on YouTube.
The Feb. 17 recording started with Akian's aide and the teacher, whom Collingswood Patch provides evidence may be Jodi Sgouros and Kelly Altenburg, respectively, based on a previously published online staff directory.
The two engage in inappropriate conversations, like joking about their alcohol abuse and sex lives in front of their students -- all of whom have behavioral conditions and, according to Chaifetz, communication difficulties that prevent them from relaying the conversations to their parents.
At the time of writing this, the facebook link to the story has 109 'likes' and 49 comments.   Every single comment was in favour of the father's actions.  

Parents' gut feelings about something wrong in their child's life are very often borne out after all the evidence is in.  Clearly, it is much more difficult to gather information from a child who is non-speaking or an elderly person with dementia.  But for people who know and love someone with these handicaps,  listening and watching closely offer up clues to what may be awry in caregiving relationships.  

The biggest flag in this story and others I have heard anecdotally in the parent community is a school or other institution that does not welcome unplanned visits from parents.  Open lines of communication and complete transparency should be absolute givens where the care of vulnerable people is concerned. 

In 1995, we lived in London and after two years of intensive conductive education, we were looking for another school for Nicholas.  Carole Greenaway was our educational psychologist and I remember one day visiting a special school with Carole.  We were given a tour of Grove Park and I recall asking about visiting Nick's classroom and about opportunities to volunteer at the school.  On both counts, I was told that parents were unwelcome, but could be accommodated with plenty of prior notice.

Walking back to the car in the parking lot, Carole and I looked at each other and we both made a gesture of thumbs down.  Shaking our heads, we chatted about what bad things could happen to vulnerable children behind closed doors.  

Today, I asked myself whether I would want CCTV surveillance in Nicholas' room.  It didn't take me long to decide that no, we don't need it and we wouldn't want it.  I drop in to visit Nick almost every day.  If I don't visit, I call and Nicholas tells me everything, even though his speech is extremely limited.  My gut tells me that Nick's care is fantastic and every day, I feel grateful.  

But I do not judge people who do want surveillance cameras for their vulnerable loved ones who live in institutional settings.  My next post will be about one woman who tried and failed to get the right to have cameras installed in Ontario nursing homes. 

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