Restraint deaths of innocent children are on the rise. Most of these deaths occur when children are placed in the face-down prone restraint position. An increase of children needing services, coupled with untrained staff and lax restraint policies, have played a role in many of these deaths.
It is not always easy to find qualified, caring, and compassionate people who are willing to work with children who are disabled or children with special needs. Placing children in the hands of unqualified, untrained staff is a recipe for disaster, as we have all too often seen.
As one of my colleagues, Pat Amos, mentioned, families whose children were killed under these conditions have wounds that will never heal. She wrote, “Every birthday, every holiday that goes by, reminds them of what might have been. The awful reality is that these children did not die in the service of anything we can understand or to which we can become reconciled. They were not fighting a disease against which medical science proved powerless. They did not die due to an unforeseeable accident, an “act of God.” They died at the hands of those who were entrusted with their care, who were bigger and smarter, who were trained and paid to look after their wellbeing. They died after physical “interventions” that are well-known in the professional world to be dangerous, and are widely recognized even by the untrained observer to be dangerous, were repeatedly applied for long periods of time in response to childhood behaviors that endangered no one. They died aware of what was happening, in fear and without consolation.”
Too often staff and the programs that use these interventions have gotten off with a slap on the wrist or a modest fine. As Pat said, the excuse is that the death was an accident, or staff were overzealous, or no one could have known that what they were doing was dangerous. The message then goes out to other programs and staff that use these methods: “No problem.”
We are a country that prides itself on its concern for the wellbeing of children and calls them its future. We cannot tolerate a system in which one class of children is left unprotected while another class is carefully protected from the risk of psychological trauma and physical abuse. These children who are disabled, handicapped, or who have special needs are not “throwaway” children – they deserve the same protection and respect as their peers.
It is our hope our congress will act and will assist in Federal legislation banning the use of deadly face-down prone restraints, and that the use of any restraints on children are limited to true, life-threatening emergencies.