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Legal frameworks for the use of restrictive practices in residential aged care

The use of restrictive practices to manage challenging behaviours in the aged care and disability sectors is a key human rights issue in Australia. Different types of restrictive practices are used in disability accommodation and support services, residential aged care services, mental health services and prisons.

Common types of restrictive practices include:

  • detention (e.g. locking a person in a room indefinitely)
  • seclusion (e.g. locking a person in a room for a limited period of time)
  • physical restraint (e.g. clasping a person’s hands or feet to stop them from moving)
  • mechanical restraint (e.g. tying a person to a chair or bed)
  • chemical restraint (e.g. giving a person a sedative)
  • electronic restraint (e.g. using tracking bracelets, camera surveillance, restrictions on media devices).

The inappropriate use of restrictive practices is concerning because it can cause physical and psychological harm to the person being restricted. It can constitute a breach of law and human rights.

The Public Advocate has published a paper - Legal frameworks for the use of restrictive practices in aged care: An analysis of Australian and international jurisdictions - which examines the existing laws, policies and practices in Australia and other international jurisdictions. It identifies the legislation (including regulations and standards), case law, and other mechanisms that make up the regulatory frameworks for the use of restrictive practices.

There is an urgent need to clarify the legality of the use of restrictive practise in the Australian aged care system because current laws do not regulate the use of restrictive practices in residential aged care facilities.

On World Elder Abuse Day 2018, the Public Advocate issued a media release calling on the Commonwealth Government to urgently end the unregulated use of restraints and other restrictive practices in residential aged care. The use of unlawful restrictive practices in residential aged care amounts to institutionalised elder abuse and the Commonwealth Government has not acted to end these human rights violations.

In mid-2017, the Public Advocate publicly called on the Australian Government to introduce regulation to better protect elderly Queenslanders and Australians, and wrote to the Minister for Aged Care articulating concerns about the unlawful use of restrictive practices.

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Last reviewed
18 June 2018
Last updated
18 June 2018

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