Australia’s largest autism service provider says its staff has never used a wooden box to lock up students, and the two employees responsible for its construction have been stood down.
Autism Spectrum Australia's (Aspect) is under an investigation following revelations staff built a large wooden structure to lock up clients, Fairfax media reports.
The two metre tall box, kept inside a classroom at a Melbourne day centre was intended to calm distressed clients, according to The Age.
Images show the enclosure at Autism Spectrum Australia's site at Heatherton, in the city’s south-east, was fitted with a metal lock.
The box, decorated by clients with autism, was to be fitted with egg cartons for soundproofing, Fairfax reported.
Aspect CEO Adrian Ford said the box had been dismantled before it had been used.
“(The box) was in no way, shape or form, suitable for its purpose; nor was it consistent with any of the approaches used by this organisation," he said in a statement on the organisation’s website, titled "Instance Of An Unauthorised Structure At An Aspect Location".
"I directed its immediate, safe removal. The structure was unfinished and never actually used by people with autism in our care.”
“The two employees identified as being responsible for the structure were immediately stood down by Aspect, pending a thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding its construction. Both employees, who cooperated with the investigation at the time, no longer work for Aspect.”
The Age reports internal Aspect documents refer to the enclosure as a “desensitizing box.”
Former Aspect site manager, Karen Burgess, labelled the box as “coffin-like.”
The whistle-blower told The Age it reflects the “complete disregard for clients as human beings”
She said it “epitomises the type of practices that were occurring at that site.”
The box, built last year, was dismantled in April but Aspect did not report its existence to authorities.
It is now part of a larger investigation by the Disability Services Commissioner, which is reviewing practices at the centre.
Ms Burgess is currently pursuing an unfair dismissal case aginst Aspect saying she was dismissed for objecting to the box.