In Response to OCR Data Ukeru Calls for Immediate Reduction in Restraint and Seclusion of Children with Disabilities

Posted December 15, 2016

December 15, 2016 – Today Kim Sanders, an internationally known behavioral health specialist, expressed extreme concern over the new statistics recently released by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) citing a significant increase in complaints involving restraint and seclusion of children with disabilities. According to the report, Securing Equal Educational Opportunity, the overall number of complaints filed last year with the U.S. Department of Education’s OCR soared to a record 16,720, with the largest increases in the areas of restraint or seclusion of students with disabilities; harassment based on race, color, or national origin; and sexual violence.

“The good news from this report is that more and more parents are standing up for the rights of their children, recognizing that restraint and seclusion should not be an acceptable form of behavior modification, especially for children with disabilities,” stated Sanders. “However, I anticipate the number of complaints will continue to rise unless educators are given training that offers meaningful intervention, which includes a safe, physical alternative to use before restraint or seclusion. Only then will you see these complaints decrease.”

According to an investigative report by ProPublica and NPR, children are restrained or secluded over 267,000 times each year in U.S. public schools, with the majority being children with special needs. This is especially troublesome because research indicates that these types of interventions actually cause, reinforce and maintain aggression and violence.[i] Children most “at-risk” for behavioral problems in the classroom typically have a history of trauma. When a child is restrained or placed in a seclusion room, all their past suffering resurfaces, causing them to act out even more and fueling a cycle of long-term trauma.

The OCR report offered case studies of real investigations of complaints. One investigation involved a 9-year old child in California that had been restrained 92 times over an 11-month period. They confirmed the child, in total, had been held face down for 2,200 minutes.

“This is a perfect example of a perpetual cycle of aggression and violence,” stated Sanders. “We have to shift the mentality of control to an environment of understanding and comfort. Training teachers to recognize why a child is exhibiting a particular behavior and how to offer meaningful intervention will be the key to massively reducing these practices, decreasing complaints and increasing the safety of the child and caregiver.”

Sanders believes that in many cases, teachers don’t want to use these techniques but when fear and frustration take over, they believe they have no other alternative but to force children into physical or emotional submission which could explain the high complaint numbers seen in the report.

“We call on the Department of Education to mandate a trauma-informed approach to training educators across the country in order to see a major reduction in incidents and complaints for 2017,” stated Sanders.

Sanders is President of Ukeru Systems, a division of Grafton Integrated Health Network. She is recognized as an innovator for moving towards a physical restraint free environment at Grafton, a national leader in providing multiple levels of support to people with a wide range of emotional and/or behavioral challenges. Within a span of 10 years, Grafton reduced the use of restraints by 99.8 percent, lowered workers’ compensation policy costs and reduced employee turnover for a total return on investment of over $16 million. Client induced staff injuries have been reduced by over 60 percent (from a high of 424 in FY05 to 129 in FY16) and staff injuries from restraints have gone from a high of 126 in FY05 to only three in FY16.

Due to their success, Grafton has created Ukeru Systems, the first crisis training program to offer a physical alternative to restraint and seclusion.

[i]Promoting Alternatives to the Use of Seclusion and Restraint – Issue Brief #4. SAMHSA, 2010