I read an article recently on the effects of restraint and seclusion for children with disabilities. I found the article fascinating because I have read other, less scholarly articles on the topic. I have also written articles on the effects of seclusion and restraint in children with autism. Being a stepmom to an autistic child, the concern is very real. My husband and I use modified baby gates to limit access to certain areas of the house that could pose dangers, and use child proof locks. We have never blocked his access to the bathroom or bedroom, and have never locked him inside one room. In addition, the windows have always been accessible in case of fire or other emergency. For a child who is not fully verbal, emergency officials may not recognize that there is a child inside a locked or blocked room.
Now that my stepson is in school, the concern has been even greater. Thankfully, the school he attends appears to be very adept at handling children with a rambunctious nature.
A recent article on child restraint laws identifies that many states observe laws protecting children, though there is no federal standard. On the topic of restraint and seclusion of children, the primary group of children considered is those with disabilities.
While the article focuses on the requirements for schools, the principles can easily be attributed to parents of disabled children as well. Because of safety concerns, parents frequently decide to lock doors or windows at night to keep children from running through the house, outdoors, etc. which may not be safe. It is important for parents to understand how these measures can affect their children's safety, both physically and emotionally.
Here are some basic number facts about restraint and seclusion laws:
- There are 55 million children in schools across the nation.
- 30 states provide "meaningful protections" from seclusion and restraint through statutes and regulations. The regulations in these states have "force of law".
- Of the 30 states with meaningful protections, 12 only protect children with disabilities.
- 12 states observe "nonbinding guidelines" but do not have force of law, and are under the umbrella of the Department of Education.
- 19 states have protective regulations for children without disabilities.
- 16 states limit restraint, by law, to emergencies that involve a risk of immediate physical harm for children with disabilities.
- 33 states define seclusion as placing a child in a room in which he or she cannot exit, such as doors and windows being blocked, locked, etc.
- 12 states provide protection from non-emergency seclusion for disabled children.
- Only 4 states provide protection from all forms of seclusion for disabled children.
The article notes that seclusion can be carried out in many ways including blocking doors with furniture, raising door handles, or attaching latches. Based on the definition of seclusion, there are four states that prohibit all seclusion methods in children. Those four states are: Nevada, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Texas. One can assume that laws prohibiting seclusion in the school system would frown upon parents using such methods at home. The dangers are as real in the home as they are in the school.
Information for this article taken from "How Safe is the Schoolhouse? An Analysis of State Seclusion and Restraint Laws and Policies" by Jessica Butler, July 7, 2012.