Caregiver at special needs school faces assault charge

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Caregiver at special needs school faces assault charge

But she says the children are aggressive before they've taken their medication

Prega Govender

A children’s home has opened an assault charge with police against a staff member of a special needs school after she was caught on surveillance cameras allegedly assaulting a 10-year-old pupil.
The chairperson of the school’s governing body, Farnaaz Haffejee, who saw the video footage captured last month, said it showed Nothemba Saleni, a child and youth care worker at the Randburg Clinic School in Johannesburg, apparently twisting the arm of a pupil behind his back in the dining hall of the school’s hostel which seems to cause him to fall on to the floor.
Saleni is then seen pulling the boy towards the corner of the room. The footage shows her bending over him and allegedly hitting him with her hands while he is on the ground. Saleni has denied assaulting the boy, saying she was just restraining him.Times Select has established that St Mary’s Children’s Home in Rosettenville, Johannesburg, opened the assault charge at the Randburg police station about two to three weeks ago. The boy, who is a ward of the state, lives at the children’s home over weekends.
The Randburg Clinic School caters for autistic pupils, aged three to 18 years, and those with severe behavioural difficulties who are between the ages of six and 13 years.
Members of the school’s governing body insisted on watching the video clip after they were informed about the alleged assault by the school’s managers.
The chairperson of the school's governing body, Farnaaz Haffejee, informed Sipho Mkhulisi, the Gauteng education department’s district director for Johannesburg North, about the incident in a letter dated February 22.
She told Mkhulisi that it was not the first time that such an incident had taken place and that it was “becoming a trend” among child and youth care workers as previously reported matters had not been handled appropriately by the department.
“We were horrified to see what had happened. What is even more disturbing is the fact that these GDE [Gauteng department of education] employees are still overseeing our children.”
She said that the governing body had hired four youngsters, known as Big Buddies, to prevent bullying at school.Haffejee also told Mkhulisi that parents were demanding to know the outcome of an investigation into a complaint of assault against an autistic pupil by another child and youth care worker that took place last year.
“We want to know why these workers are still working with our learners. Can you imagine the trauma that the children must be going through having to see these perpetrators daily?”
Saleni denied assaulting the boy, saying that on the morning of the incident she spoke to him “nicely and he responded very rudely”.
“I had to push him against the wall and restrain him. When you restrain them you need to put their hands behind their back. So he fell. He went down on his knees and then after that he walked out of the dining hall.”
She said that he then ran and “we had to run after him”.
“He went to the principal’s office and then when he gets there the principal never even wanted to hear what took place because between me and the principal and the other staff there are grievances.”
Saleni said they underwent “restraining training” about two years ago, adding: “The children in our school are very wild and when they are very wild, especially in the mornings when they haven't taken their medication, they can be very aggressive.”
She confirmed that a policeman from the Randburg police station had taken a statement from her about the incident.
At the time of going to print, St Mary’s Children’s Home and the Gauteng education department had not responded to questions e-mailed to both.

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