Youth struggle against improper seclusion, restraint

Anne Vankirk
DRW Legal Intern

Recent DRW investigative efforts indicate dangerous seclusion and restraint techniques currently used in some institutions that care for children with disabilities in Washington State.

DRW is working with these institutions to reduce instances of seclusion and restraint, as well as finding other, less dangerous, methods when seclusion and restraint is used. 

The practice of using seclusion and restraint against children with disabilities is an ongoing area of concern. In 2008, DRW helped improve conditions for children with disabilities at a Washington State facility by identifying seclusion and restraint abuse, inciting change of documentation and policies, and retraining staff members on appropriate use of seclusion and restraint. 

DRW is currently working to help ensure use of seclusion or restraint against an institutionalized individual is utilized only when the law allows.

According to federal and state law, seclusion and restraint may only be used on children in an institutional setting when there is an imminent danger to self or others, less restrictive measures have been determined to be ineffective, and the reasons are clearly documented. Seclusion and restraint must never be used for coercion, discipline, convenience, or retaliation.  

DRW is also advocating to the institutions in Washington State to emphasize safety in the use of restraints; particularly avoiding the use of restraints that may interfere with respiration. The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report in 2009 on the dangers of use the of restraints and seclusion in which they reported,

“…cases we examined illustrate the following themes: (1) children with disabilities were sometimes restrained and secluded even when they did not appear to be physically aggressive and their parents did not give consent; (2) facedown or other restraints that block air to the lungs can be deadly; (3) teachers and staff in these cases were often not trained in the use of restraints and techniques; and (4) teachers and staff from these cases continue to be employed as educators.

"In addition to the 10 cases we identified for this testimony, 3 cases from our previous testimonies on residential treatment programs for troubled youth also show that face down restraints, or those that impede respiration, can be deadly.” 

As a Protection and Advocacy agency, DRW is mandated to use its access authority to respond to concerns of abuse and neglect against individuals with disabilities. This is an even more pressing duty when individuals are minors in institutional settings, and may be less empowered to advocate for themselves. 

As always, if you suspect that seclusion or restraints are being used improperly against an individual with disabilities, either a minor or an adult, please contact DRW at 1-800-562-2702 Voice or 1-800-905-0209 TTY and ask to speak to a  resource advocate.

Also, if you are a member of an institution and would like more information on safe practices, please contact DRW.

Please direct all questions to [email protected].


Related links

Envoy Fall 2009, Federal court upholds DRW’s right to investigate abuse and neglect 

Envoy Summer 2008, Settlement ends segregation of institutionalized youth  

Envoy Winter 2004-2005, "A Free & Appropriate Education": more than just sorting garbage

Freedom from abuse and neglect